Like an M-80 going off in celebratory fashion to honor Independence Day, the Cleveland Indians are hoping the possible return of designated hitter Travis Hafner will have the same effect.
Hafner is expected to be activated off the disabled list in time for Wednesday's finale of a three-game series versus the LA Angels of Anaheim. He has been sidelined since late May with a right knee injury and is batting .242 with six homers and 23 RBI. Hafner has an on-base percentage of .380 and said he was feeling better prior to Tuesday's 9-5 win over the Angels.
Indians manager Manny Acta is probably thrilled about Hafner's progress, but will try not to rush things.
"It's a recovery day for him today," Acta told the club's website before last night's win. "There's a very good chance that he'll be activated tomorrow if he's OK."
Hafner didn't perform well in three rehab games with Triple-A Columbus, going 1-for-10. But it's all about timing and getting back to playing baseball when it comes to rehabilitation.
Cleveland won for the fourth time in six tries on Tuesday, as Shelley Duncan homered and Jose Lopez collected three hits, an RBI and a run scored. Jason Kipnis and Jack Hannahan both had two hits and drove in a run for the Indians, who are still two games behind Chicago for the AL Central lead. Zach McAllister held on for the win even though he gave up five runs -- three earned -- and eight hits in six innings.
"He was very effective with his fastball and never got scared out there," Acta said about McAllister. "He was really strong out there and we were able to back him up at the plate."
The Indians have been at or above .500 for 79 consecutive days and have not dipped below the mark since April 14 (3-4). They could get closer to falling back to .500 with Derek Lowe on the mound Wednesday and he is 1-5 with a 7.33 earned run average in his last eight starts. Lowe has not won since June 1 versus Minnesota and did not record a decision in Friday's 9-8 loss at Baltimore in which he allowed seven runs -- four earned -- in 5 1/3 innings.
Lowe is 7-6 with a 4.42 ERA in 16 starts this season and defeated the Angels back on April 29 in a 4-0 victory at Progressive Field. He tossed 7 2/3 shutout innings that day, improving to 7-8 with a 3.05 ERA in 31 career games (15 starts) against Anaheim.
Cleveland rebounded from Monday's 3-0 loss and will resume its seven-game homestand with four games versus the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Angels will close out a nine-game road trip (5-3) tonight and couldn't bail out Dan Haren again in Tuesday's loss. Haren allowed seven runs, six of which were earned, and nine hits over 4 1/3 innings for the loss. He has given up 26 runs over his last five starts, and is bothered by a back issue.
"We're going to get it looked at again when we get back home," said Haren of his ailing back. "It's not really enabling me to power the ball down in the zone. I've got to get something figured out here."
Young rookie All-Star Mike Trout hit a three-run homer and Albert Pujols drove in a run for the Angels, who are five games behind Texas for the AL West lead and will begin a four-game home series versus Baltimore on Thursday. The Halos are still a dominant 27-11 in their last 38 games.
Taking the mound for the Angels in the rubber match of this series will be Ervin Santana. Santana has split his last four decisions and did not factor in the outcome of a 7-5 setback at Toronto on Friday, as he was reached for five runs and seven hits in five innings of work.
Santana is 4-8 in 16 starts to go along with a 5.12 earned run average and hasn't had much success in his career against Cleveland. Santana countered Lowe in that 4-0 loss back in late April and suffered a hard-luck defeat, yielding a pair of runs through seven innings. The right-hander is only 1-7 with a 4.13 ERA in 12 career starts against the Tribe.
The Angels lost two of three meetings with Cleveland from April 27-29.