DETROIT: Many Indians fans think its time for Matt LaPorta to leave Columbus in the rear view mirror and start patroling left field in the big leagues.
That would leave Ben Francisco on the outside looking in, which is something manager Eric Wedge is not prepared for. At least not yet.
"I still think that Ben is a young player who's learning,'' Wedge said Sunday. ""He is a young major leaguer gettting better. If he takes one step back and two forward and continues to believe in himself, I think he'll be all right.''
The fans have become disenchanted with Francisco primarily because of a 20-game stretch that began early in June. Over this span, Francisco batted .137 with no home runs and two RBI.
"Sometimes you go into a little stretch where you're not seeing the ball good and not taking very good swings,'' Francisco said. "In June, that's what happened, but I feel pretty good now.''
In his past nine games, Francisco is batting .360 with one home run, three doubles and two RBI, fixing his overall average at .242 with six home runs and 25 RBI.
So which is the real Francisco? Nobody is certain yet.
A part of Francisco's game he hadn't shown before is base stealing. One of Francisco's spring training goals was to run more. Wedge said that was fine with him, and Francisco has demonstrated something of a flair for running by stealing 12 bases in 14 attempts.
"I feel pretty good about that,'' he said. "Do I have the green light? Not all the time. I just talk to Eric, and the game will dictate what I do.''
Francisco is not a slap hitter who depends on bouncing the ball through the infield for base hits. But he is an adept bunter, who has four successful sacrifices (tied for second on the team) and three bunt hits.
As a right-handed batter, Francisco is at a handicap in trying to bunt his way on base, but Wedge thinks it can be a viable part of his game.
"He's working on that,'' Wedge said. "That bunt last night was a sacrifice, but because of Ben's speed and explosiveness, he got a hit out of it.''
Francisco is conscious of the opportunity to add a few hits to his total by bunting.
"If it's there, I'd like to take advantage of it,''' he said, referring to whether the third baseman is playing at normal depth or coming in.
ALTERED ROTATION -- Coming out of the break, Indians starters will find themselves working in a different order.
Cliff Lee will be No. 1, followed by Toma Ohka, David Huff and Aaron Laffey. After an off day, the rotation will change again. Lee will be followed by Carl Pavano, Huff, Laffey and an undecided No. 5 starter that might be Jeremy Sowers, who is laboring in Columbus.
Pavano is being held out of the initial four games to afford his arm a rest, given the fact that he has pitched more big-league innings (107) than in the previous three years combined (45.2).
""We can use the break to give Carl a little extra time,'' Wedge said.
Wedge added that Pavano has shown no signs of fatigue, and that the additional days off are only precautionary.
PHANTOM INJURY? -- Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera was taken out of the game in the seventh inning for what Wedge described as a slighty sore shoulder.
"His shoulder was kind of sore,'' Wedge said. ""He took kind of a funky swing at one of (Detroit starting pitcher Justin) Verlander's changeups. He was also playing his sixth game in a row, and he hasn't done that since he came back.''
Cabrera, activated from the disabled list on June 28, said his shoulder felt fine and that he hadn't been hurt.
MIDSEASON PEP TALK -- Wedge gathered the players in the clubhouse Sunday to discuss the rest of the season.
"I talked briefly about the first half,'' Wedge said. ""It was obviously a tough first half. I also talked about staying positive, that they have to think good thoughts. I told them to have a good break, stay safe and be ready to go Thursday.''
FARM FACTS -- Matt LaPorta hit his 11th home run of the season and singled, driving in three runs, but Columbus lost 7-6 to Louisville... Mark Thompson his his sixth homer of the year nd had two RBI, but Lake County lost to Hickory 7-6... Jason Smit doubled and singled twice, driving in two runs, as Mahoning Vally dropped a 5-4 decision to Batavia.
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