The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

April 9, 2013

Pronk goes the opener

Hafner comes back to haunt Wahoos in home debut

For the Star Beacon

CLEVELAND — Travis Hafner has had quite a few memorable games at Progressive Field. Monday’s, however, was one that was not welcomed by the home fans.

Hafner, who played with the Indians for 10 years before leaving via free agency over the winter, hit a three-run homer in the first inning, and later added an RBI single and a pair of walks to lead the visiting New York Yankees to an 11-6 win, marking Cleveland’s fifth straight defeat in its home openers.

Hafner, who received a loud ovation when introduced in the pre-game ceremony, had struggled with injuries while looking like only a shadow of his former self over the last several seasons. But on Monday, he resembled the player that he had been seven years ago, when the slugger had arguably his best year.

After taking two balls from Ubaldo Jimenez with two men on base, Hafner (4 RBI, 3 runs) launched the next pitch over the center-field fence, marking his 100th homer at Progressive Field. Two innings later, he lined a hit to center to give the Yankees (3-4) the advantage again after Cleveland had tied it with three runs in the bottom of the first. He walked in his next two plate appearances, and came around to score both times.

The anticipation around town was high for the Indians’ home opener, and of course a sellout crowd was in attendance. Jimenez (0-1, 6.97 ERA)  was given the honor of starting the game, but the veteran right-hander wasn’t up to the challenge. The Yankees spanked him for seven runs on seven hits and three walks in 41⁄3 innings.

“(It) just felt like one of those days,” Jimenez, who related that he had trouble getting loose, said. “I didn’t have anything going. I didn’t have my fastball or my breaking ball.”

“I felt it was a struggle for him to get going,” manager Terry Francona said. “Today was one of those days where I thought he fought his mechanics a little bit. His direction to the plate wasn’t as good as it had been. So the pitches were flat. There wasn’t as much deception, especially to the left-handers, and it was kind of evident from the beginning that it was a struggle.”

Jimenez yielded a run-scoring bloop single to center by Brett Gardner in the fifth. Robinson Cano (4 runs, 3 hits) led off the fifth with the first of his two solo homers.

Jimenez exited after issuing a walk to Hafner later that inning. Reliever Matt Albers later turned that into a run on a hit by Ichiro Suzuki, and then gave up Cano’s second round-tripper in the following stanza.

“When Cano starts feeling good, he can hit anybody anywhere,” Francona said. “He’s the last guy we want to get hot.”

New York, which scored in each of the first seven innings except the second, tacked on three in the seventh against Rich Hill on a walk to Hafner, hits by Vernon Wells (3 hits) and Suzuki, an error by Cabrera at shortstop and a sacrifice fly by Eduardo Nunez.

The Indians (3-4) bounced back immediately after Hafner’s long ball.

Michael Bourn led off with a walk against Hiroki Kuroda (1-1, 6.75). Asdrubal Cabrera followed with a grounder up the middle that looked for a moment like it could have been turned into a double play, but it hit second base and bounced past shortstop Nunez and into center field as Bourn took third. Jason Kipnis then hit a sacrifice fly to bring home the first run.

Nick Swisher grounded a hit through the left side, sending Cabrera to second. Michael Brantley then slapped an RBI single to right that deflected off the glove of first baseman Lyle Overbay, who may have been screened by Swisher.

With men at the corners, Carlos Santana drew a four-pitch walk to load the bases. Mark Reynolds followed with a sacrifice fly to tie it.

But that was all the Indians could muster against Kuroda, who went on to last 51⁄3 innings. After the first inning, their best chance against him came in the third, when they placed a man on third with one out. However, Kuroda reached out and stabbed Brantley’s grounder and threw him out. Then Kuroda got Reynolds to fly out.

“We had a chance,” Francona said. “We had a real chance. (Kuroda) was on the ropes. They had (Shawn) Kelley warming up in the bullpen (in the first inning). He was fighting it a little bit. He got his finger bruised (on Wednesday against Boston).

“It would have been a great start to the (4-game) series — getting him out of there in the first inning. To his credit, he stayed in there and did a really good job.”

Cleveland scored its other three runs in the eighth against Kelly on a two-run homer by Mike Aviles. a triple by Bourn and a wild pitch.

Boone Logan and Joba Chamberlain also pitched for the Yankees.

Cody Allen and Chris Perez worked the eighth and ninth respectively for the Tribe.

“I saw how (Jimenez) was throwing,” Francona said. “But if you go to the bullpen too early, losing a game is bad, (but) losing a game and ruining your  bullpen is worse.

Francona, however, did think that Jimenez settle down somewhat after the first stanza, and got a little more aggressive.

“Fortunately he got far enough where we didn’t empty our bullpen,” he said.

Santana left the contest after being hit on the left thumb on his own passed ball in the ninth. He suffered a contusion, and was to have X-rays.

Rain, which was viewed as a threat to the game, fell only briefly, early in the contest.

Goldman is a freelance writer from South Euclid.