GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The wake of baseball's steroid era can be an uncomfortable time for a guy like Travis Hafner.

People know Hafner entered the big leagues with the body of a middle linebacker. They know that body betrayed him last year, when his weakened right shoulder prompted a lengthy stint on the disabled list and, eventually, arthroscopic surgery. They see that he dropped at least 10 pounds over the winter. And now, following Alex Rodriguez's admission that he used performance-enhancing drugs during his days with the Rangers, they draw a line connecting Pronk to his old Texas team and its tally of admitted and alleged steroid users.

This all led to what Hafner called an "awkward" interview the other day, when a reporter asked Pronk point-blank if he had used steroids.

"I've never used steroids," Hafner told the [Cleveland] Plain Dealer.

But what is a denial really worth these days?

Fans have learned -- all too assertively -- not to always take athletes at their word in such matters, so even the most determined of denials from the most believable of ballplayers is often met with a roll of the eyes or sarcasm.

Hafner knows this, and that's why the exchange felt uncomfortable. He's seen such denials on TV, be it Rafael Palmeiro's 2005 testimony in front of Congress or A-Rod's interview with Katie Couric on "60 Minutes" in 2007.

So Pronk knows how his denial comes across in public.

"I know I did things the right way, and that gives me peace of mind," he said. "But it's almost pointless to try and defend yourself."

And whether you believe Hafner or not, the simple fact is that all ballplayers who displayed power and productivity at any point before MLB officially began testing for performance-enhancing drugs will be viewed with some skepticism.

"You almost feel like you have to defend yourself," Hafner said, "even though there's no reason to."

Hafner first came up to the big leagues with the Rangers in August of 2002. His teammates included A-Rod and Palmeiro, who have both tested positive for steroids, and Juan Gonzalez and Ivan Rodriguez, who were both alleged to have used steroids by former teammate Jose Canseco.

To some, that simple connection is enough to cast a shadow of doubt on Hafner. But he said he barely got to know his teammates during that brief tenure with the Major League club. He was traded to the Indians that following winter.

"Being a young guy, I wasn't exposed to anything," Hafner said. "I was just trying to fit in and stay out of everybody's way. I think there's always this perception that [steroids] were out in the middle of the clubhouse. But unless you did research or looked into it, you wouldn't know anything."

The fact that this topic -- some might even call it a non-topic -- came up in the media in these early days of Spring Training ruffled some feathers in the Indians' organization. But Hafner, who is trying to revive his career after the shoulder weakness limited him to just 57 largely unproductive games last season, said he doesn't pay much attention to the issue. He knows people will talk, no matter what he says in his defense.

Pronk also knows more reporters will come to the Tribe's camp in the coming weeks and ask the same question, over and over again.

"A lot of fans are on your side," Hafner said. "But it seems a couple with their own opinions stand out. But it's not as big an issue as it's made out to be. Right now, the game is clean, and that's the way it should be."