Travis Hafner Swings the Other Way

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From Steve Buffum's "B-List" from Opening Day:

4) Before you object

I'm not saying that Hafner hitting the ball the other way is a bad thing: in fact, it can be a very GOOD thing, especially if it is the kind of driven ball that keeps all three outfielders from standing in right field in an X-Treme Shift.

But one of the concerns about Hafner's shoulder is that he has been unable to generate the necessary bat speed to get around on a 90+ mph fastball. His two homers to end the spring seemed like they might be a positive sign toward this, but they may also have been fluky guesses. Until he shows me more positive data, I'm skeptical.

Last night Hafner again had one hit, and again it was to the opposite field. In fact, it looked like a carbon copy — a line driver hit sharply and low over the head of the third baseman (remember, he's playing at the shortstop position in the Hafner shift).

The concerns about Pronk are many. First, is he really healthy? Did the surgery, where the doctors didn't find anything structurally wrong and just cleaned out the shoulder, do anything to put Haf back at 100% health? Second, if he's now healthy, he's still certainly dealing with what the club says are "timing" issues. Some point to his inability to get around and pull a fastball during spring as a sign that his swing is just not back yet, but should come around. Some think it's a sign that he's just no longer able to do that. Period. Even when healthy, or at a level that Hafner can call healthy.

Whatever the case, the opposite field line drive may be where Hafner has to make his living in the coming months, or, if he never gets the swing speed and timing back, forever. While pitchers will obviously pound the ball inside on Travis, knowing full well that he can't turn on those pitches for any power and the whole infield is on the right side waiting for his inevitable hard ground out, Travis may have to take advantage of anything on the outer half of the plate and go the other way.

Both his singles so far, he's done that. One pitch was clearly outside (an 84 mph changeup) and the other was on the outside half of the plate (a low-90's fastball).

He may be very well suited for this task.

This, of course, is far from optimal or great. Having a guy in the middle of the lineup who hits nothing but singles is not what this team needs. Having a guy who hits nothing but singles with three years and $37.5 million left on his contract slugging like a minor leaguer is not what this team needs either, especially when that represents the biggest contract ever doled out by the club. Paying that kind of money to someone who'll end up batting in the bottom third of the lineup is also not optimal or good.

This is all self-explanatory. Bottom line: Singles=Good for now. Bad for the next three years.

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