CHICAGO: With all the pitching and injury problems that have plagued the Indians, Luis Valbuena has been allowed to begin his development as a major-leaguer under the radar, without the public or media paying much attention.
Even during the weekend series against the Cubs, when Valbuena hit three home runs in two games, his achievements were overshadowed by myriad disasters that cost the Tribe wins on Friday and Saturday.
Nevertheless, it has become evident that Valbuena is learning to be a big-league hitter, and never mind his .234 batting average. In the past five games, Valbuena is batting .435 (10-for-23) with seven RBI.
Even as he struggled at the plate after being called up from Columbus May 2, Valbuena displayed patience at the plate, working the count, willing to take a walk.
"When he first came up his numbers didn't indicate that anything really good was happening,'' hitting coach Derek Shelton said Sunday. ""But we as a staff were seeing that he was having good at-bats. With young kids, what we want to look at is good at-bats. You can't always control the results.''
Valbuena is not expected to become someone who routinely hits home runs, even though manager Eric Wedge said, ""When he squares the ball up, it really jumps off his bat.''
It's a promising sign that of Valbuena's 25 hits, 14 have gone for extra bases, including 10 doubles.
"I think he'll hit balls in the gaps,'' Shelton said. ""He's not necessarily going to be a home run hitter.''
What sustained Valbuena during his first few weeks of non-productivity?
"His work ethic is very good,'' Shelton said. ""He and Asdrubal (Cabrera) are really close and they talk. I think it helped that Asdrubal went through some of the same things Valbuena went through.''
Valbuena tried not to think about the possibility of being sent back to Triple-A as he tried to turn himself into a major-league hitter.
"I was a little worried, not knowing exactly what to expect,'' he said, through his translator, first base coach Luis Rivera. ""I told myself I had to go out and play and not worry about the results I was getting. I tried not to put any extra pressure on myself.''
After seven weeks, Valbuena has begun to adjust to life in the big leagues.
"I feel a lot better now,'' he said. ""I have more confidence, and I'm getting a feel for what I'm trying to do.''
DELAYED REACTION -- Ryan Garko sprained his left wrist Wednesday against the Brewers, but the injury didn't catch up to him until Saturday against the Cubs.
"I really felt it when I swung at a high fastball in the sixth inning,'' he said Sunday.
Garko was removed from the game in the eighth and did not start on Sunday. However, he said he was available to play.
"They took X-rays after Saturday's game, just to make sure there wasn't something cracked in there,'' he said. ""The X-rays were negative.''
DEROSA RETURNS -- Mark DeRosa was back in the lineup after sitting out Saturday's game with a bruise on his upper leg.
"He came out early and was moving around OK,'' manager Eric Wedge said. ""I wouldn't say he's 100 percent, but he can play.''
FARM FACTS -- Lonnie Chisenhall doubled, singled and drove in one run, as Kinston beat Lynchburg 5-0. Ryan Blair also had two hits and an RBI, and Eric Berger (5-5, 2.11 ERA) threw seven shutout innings, giving up two hits. *elip Lurvin Basabe and Bo Greenwell each had three hits, as Mahoning Valley defeated Jamestown 12-2.