Pronk unsure whether he'll flash leather
Slumping designated hitter may not start in Interleague play
CLEVELAND -- The relationship between player and glove is usually a fleeting affair. A player is lucky if it lasts a year before the glove goes off into leather-bound retirement.But Travis Hafner is engaged in a lasting, long-term partnership with his first baseman's glove. After all, Pronk has only played 72 games at the position in five years in the big leagues. "I'm still working on the first one," Hafner said of his glove collection. "I've probably had it since 2003." The Indians still aren't sure if Hafner and his glove interest will make an appearance in the starting lineup this weekend in Cincinnati, when the Indians make their first foray into Interleague Play in '08, and the designated hitter is removed from the picture. "We'll see how he feels physically," manager Eric Wedge said. "But he's been taking some ground balls and throwing a little bit." Hafner said that his arthritic right elbow, which limits him from playing first base with any regularity, is feeling fine. He has been taking ground balls in the infield for about two weeks. He didn't work at first base at all during Grapefruit League play in Spring Training. "I guess I can't overdo it," he said. "The last few years, we've gotten a plan down and I kind of know my limitations." In the past, the thought of having Pronk out of the starting lineup for Interleague action was considered blasphemous. But given his struggles this season -- a .218 average, three homers, 18 RBIs and a .316 on-base percentage, coming into Thursday's series finale with the A's -- it doesn't seem totally out of the question, especially given the precautions the Indians take to avoid overuse of that elbow. "You want to have him in there," Wedge said. "But if you have him in there, then you're taking [first baseman Ryan] Garko or somebody else out." One theory on struggling DHs is that they'd be better off playing the field, because it gives them a needed distraction from their plate problems. In fact, Tigers DH Gary Sheffield recently asked manager Jim Leyland for some time in the outfield for just that reason. The Indians don't seem to ascribe to that theory. "It's tough, regardless," Wedge said. "Everybody likes to hit. If you're struggling with it, it's going to have an effect on you." Pronk doesn't seem to think some time at first would help. "I like DH-ing," he said. "It's different for different people. Some people don't like DH-ing. I've got a good routine with it. Some people feel like they have to be in the game the whole time." Of course, if Pronk spent more time in the field, he might have to reach into his stash of backup gloves. And yes, he has such a stash, believe it or not. "I have two of them," he said with a smile. "They've held up surprisingly well."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.