2/24/2013 3:54 P.M. ET
Raburn comes out swinging at Indians camp
By Tyler Emerick / MLB.com
GOODYEAR, Ariz -- Nick Swisher strolled through the Indians' clubhouse Sunday morning with the usual pep in his step, but on the back of his jersey was another name: Ryan Raburn.
Swisher wanted to see if wearing his teammate's clothes would translate into playing like him. The science behind the idea might not have been there, but no one could blame the Cleveland first baseman for wanting to ride on the tail of Raburn's Spring Training hot streak.
In his first two games with the Indians this weekend, Raburn hit three homers and drove in five runs. Impressive springs are nothing new to the versatile veteran. Last year with Detroit, he smacked six home runs and plated 19 runs in 56 spring at-bats.
For Raburn, however, he's hoping he can stick around long enough for the Indians to dress like him when the games begin to count.
Coming off the worst season of his career, the 31-year-old is in camp as a non-roster invitee with a chance to win a backup role for second and third base, as well as the corner-outfield spots.
"I can't worry about too much other than coming out and playing every day like it's my last," Raburn said. "I don't have the luxury of having a roster spot. So far, everything is working and I feel great, though. I know I'm only two games in, but I just want to keep making quality at-bats and see where it takes me."
Thanks to his stellar Spring Training a year ago, Raburn won the Tigers' Opening Day job at second base, but he didn't carry his success in Florida back to Detroit. In 66 games for the Tigers, he hit just .171 and was sent down to Triple-A Toledo, where he spent the remainder of the year.
"I put so much pressure on myself last year because I got off to such a bad start," Raburn said. "It wasn't very enjoyable. It got to the point where it was so stressful, I couldn't just let go and play. I was always battling myself. Everybody has talent here, it's just a matter of how you handle yourself when you're down. I didn't handle it well."
Besides the mental hurdles, Raburn examined his swing over and over again this offseason to diagnose what went wrong. The verdict he came up with was that he relied too much on his arms while at the plate.
"Last year, I had no legs involved in it, so now I'm trying to incorporate them into my swing like I used to," he said. "Right now, I'm getting more of my full body into my swing and getting good use out of everything. It's a tribute to the hitting coaches here, they've been working non-stop with us, before practice, after practice. Just trying to iron out some kinks from last year and get back to the way I was a few years ago."
Raburn's best seasons came in 2009 and '10, when he hit .291 and .280, respectively, with a combined 29 home runs and 107 RBIs. Even though the utility man spent the first 12 years of his career in the Tigers organization, he thought a fresh start might rekindle his success.
"I loved everything about Detroit; everybody treated me well. It's just sometimes you get to that point where it's repetitious and it's the same stuff over and over," Raburn said. "Last year is not who I am. It was just a bad year and quite frankly, I stunk it up pretty good. I'm ready to put it behind me and I've been doing as much work as I can to get ready for this year and win a spot on this team."
Like Raburn, Indians manager Terry Francona isn't exactly sure what to credit for his player's Spring Training success, but he won't be rushing to judgment either way.
"There's always a guy who's hot. There's always a guy who's cold. The timing you can't figure out," Francona said. "If you could, you'd bottle it and give it to everyone. I do know for guys like Ryan, I know we say it's Spring Training, but they're playing for their baseball lives. And we try to respect that. But if he was 0-for-4 with four strikeouts right now, I don't know if we'd feel any different, because it's early."
As for the competition to earn a job, Raburn knows his spring will be more pressure packed than most. He's just got to stay levelheaded through the ups and, more importantly, the downs.
"I'm just trying to concentrate on having fun," he said. "I'm constantly working, and I always have things to learn, but sometimes you just have to let your talent take over."
Tyler Emerick is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.