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Hafner on verge of breakthrough?

By Sheldon Published: April 8, 2009

 Travis Hafner believes he is ready to hit. 

That might not be news or maybe it is, depending on your perspective. There are Indians fans who think Hafner will never again be an impact hitter. Others, manager Eric Wedge, for example, who feel that it's only a matter of time.

Hafner is almost totally recovered from last year's shoulder surgery, and his timing and plate discipline seem to be returning. 

He lined a single to right in the season opener, so if getting that first hit was preying on his mind, it no longer is. After struggling through an on-again, off-again slump two years ago, Hafner's 2008 season was ruined by the shoulder injury. It would be no surprise if he felt some anxiety about his return. 

"I don't have any doubt that I can be a good hitter and get back to being productive,'' he said. ""As long as I'm in good health, I can do that.'' 

So how is Hafner's health? 

"Physically, I feel real food,'' he said. ""Like everything is fixed. My strength, my bat speed -- everything is good. It's all moving in the right direction.''

But Hafner has not arrived at his destination yet. In speaking of his at-bats in the first game of the season Monday, Wedge said, ""There were a couple of pitches where he could have done a little more damage, but he'll get there sooner or later.''

Before his shoulder injury, Hafner was obssessive about swinging a bat, either against live pitching, a pitching machine or at a ball resting on a tee.

Asked whether he would routinely take 200 swings, Hafner said, ""Easily.'' 

He is not swinging that many times now. 

"With the program I'm on, I get a good amount of work,'' he said. ""Maybe there were times in the past when I took a ton of swings but not on a daily basis. If I did that, I would work myself in the ground.'' 

What is the point of taking swing after swing after swing 

"I'm trying to get the right feel,'' Hafner said. ""Once I get it, I take maybe 10 more swings and I'm ready for the game. But I take as many swings as I need to get that feel.''

When Hafner talks about feel, that's exactly what he means. If he tries to explain it, the best he can do is, ""I try to be short to the ball and be able to swing through it.''

For those who advocate moving Hafner down in the batting order from the cleanup spot, Wedge said, ""The last thing you want to do is put him in a place in the lineup he's not used to. Then he'd be trying too hard to get back to the four hole.'' 

HEALTH UPDATE -- Throwing his usual bullpen between starts, Cliff Lee showed no ill effects from being struck on the forearm by a batted ball in the season opener Monday. 

Lee gave up seven runs in five innings Monday, four runs immedately after being hit in the arm. 

"In two short periods of time, they did a lot of damage,'' manager Eric Wedge said. 

NEW HONOREES -- The Indians announced the this year's inductees to the club's Hall of Fame: pitcher Wes Ferrell and catcher Sandy Alomar

Ferrell pitched for Cleveland from 1927-'33 and for four consecutive seasons won 20 or more games, winning a total of 91 over that span. 

Alomar played 11 years for the Indians, beginning with 1990 season, and was selected to the All-Star Game six times, winning the game's MVP award in 1997, when he batted .324 with 21 home runs and 83 RBI for the season. Alomar is a coach for the Mets. 

Induction ceremonies are scheduled for Aug. 1 before the Tribe engages the Tigers. 

CELEBRATION -- A tribute to the late Tribe broadcaster Herb Score will be part of Opening Day ceremonies at Progressive Field on Friday. 

 Score's wife Nancy will throw out the ceremonial first pitch and fans will watch a video of Score, who also was a pitching phenom for the Tribe in the '50s. Score died last November. 

The Blue Jays will provide the opposition for the sold-out home opener, which will begin at 4:05 p.m. 

OMAR ON DECK -- Omar Vizquel, now a utilityinfielder for the Rangers will make his first start thursday afternoon.

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