CLEVELAND: Ragin’ Raburn. Joltin’ Joe Raburn.
If Detroit Tigers fans heard those nicknames that were floating around Progressive Field on the heels of a hot streak by Ryan Raburn, they’d probably fall out in laughter.
The words “Ryan Raburn” and “hot streak” in the same sentence is not something Tigers fans experienced last season.
Raburn hit .171 with one home run in 222 plate appearances last season before being demoted to minors. The same Raburn who’s fueled the Indians’ season-high four-game winning streak heading into Thursday’s off day.
Raburn is a veteran known for slow starts. Not this season. Raburn, a 13-year pro, has started anything but slowly, especially in his past three games.
In his last three games, Raburn is 11-for-13 for an .846 batting average with two doubles, four home runs and nine RBI. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Raburn is just the fourth player in the last 75 seasons with at least four homers and 11 hits in a three-game span — joining Duke Snider (1955), Kirby Puckett (1987) and Shawn Green (2002).
Raburn also got a hit in his last at-bat Sunday night, giving him 12 hits in his last 14 at-bats.
“When you plug a guy in — whether it’s due to injury, a doubleheader or whatever — and he gets this hot, that’s such an added bonus,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of Raburn, the beneficiary of everyday playing time recently with injuries to center fielder Michael Bourn (finger) and first baseman/right fielder Nick Swisher (shoulder). “He’s been so hot, we’ve been able to hit him all over the order. It’s been huge for us.”
Raburn, 31, hit two home runs to power the Tribe to a 9-0 win over the Kansas City Royals on Monday at Kauffman Stadium, then smacked two more homers in a 14-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies with Roy Halladay on the mound Tuesday at Progressive Field.
Wednesday, Raburn ditched the long ball approach but still went 4-for-5 in a 6-0 win over the Phillies, doing most of his damage against former Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee. Raburn had been just 2-for-19 with seven strikeouts in his career against Lee, a former Indians left-hander.
He reached on a single in the second inning that helped to produce the Indians’ first run. In the third, he tapped a slow infield roller up the third-base line for an RBI hit. In the fifth, Raburn lined an RBI double to left field. When he reached safely in the seventh on a blooper that dropped between three Phillies in shallow center field, even Raburn had to laugh at his string of luck. As he stood at first base removing his batting gloves, he grinned and shrugged his shoulders as he and Indians first-base coach Mike Sarbaugh shared a laugh.
Raburn added to his can-do-no-wrong stretch with a highlight-reel leaping catch at the wall that robbed Phillies slugger Ryan Howard of an extra-base hit in the fourth inning. Soon, a cheering section had formed in right field as fans began loudly chanting Raburn’s name.
“[Raburn] has taken this opportunity and made the most of it and it will serve him well down the road,” Francona said. “When you can plug a guy like [Mike] Aviles or Raburn in there and not miss a beat, it’s really helpful.”
Raburn is now batting .364 in 16 games with four doubles, four homers, 10 RBI, a .655 slugging percentage and a 1.061 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentages).
After Wednesday’s game, Indians President Mark Shapiro tweeted a picture of Raburn’s swing — which Francona lauded as “a nice, short stroke” — with the words: “Can u say....locked in?!”
Not long afterward, senior vice president of public affairs Bob DiBiasio tweeted: “Courtesy of former Tribe slugger Albert Belle, red-hot Ryan Raburn’s new nickname is Ragin’ Raburn. 11 hits in last 13 ABs. Wow.”
In fact, it seems the only person not impressed by Raburn’s streak is Raburn himself. Despite matching a career high with his four hits Wednesday, he was dressed and out of the clubhouse before reporters could make their way inside for postgame interviews.
The night before after hitting two home runs for the second consecutive game, the unassuming 6-foot, 185-pound Raburn had to be chased down in the hallway as he tried to quickly slip out of the clubhouse undetected.
Raburn’s low profile likely has to do with him knowing full well just how fickle the game and its what-have-you-done-for-me-lately fans can be. Throughout his struggles last season, he was often the target of Tigers fans’ angst — during games, on local sports television shows and especially on local sports talk radio.
In November, the Tigers released Raburn, their fifth-round draft pick in 2001, who had spent at least parts of the past six seasons wearing a Tigers uniform. In January, the Indians offered Raburn a one-year minor-league contract.
“When I first got hired, [General Manager] Chris [Antonetti] and I were talking and I said I knew [Raburn] had had a rough year and it kind of snowballed on him,” Francona said. “But I said, ‘if they take him off the roster,’ and Chris was like, ‘yeah, I’m with you.’ So we called him right away.”
So far, Raburn has rewarded the Tribe. His leaping grab to rob Howard was among the web gems on Baseball Tonight and the show’s hosts suggested he was a shoo-in for the American League Player of the Week.
“I’m just going to copy what he does every day, eat what he eats, all that,” Indians first baseman/designated hitter Mark Reynolds joked. “But really, he’s been fun to watch and I’m so happy for him. He had a tough stretch in [Sunday’s] doubleheader in Kansas City. After that, it was like he said, ‘the heck with it, I’m going to go out there and swing.’ Since then he’s been lighting it up for us.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.