By Craig Gifford
Remember Jack Hannahan? Remember the Cleveland Indians third baseman known for having one of the game’s best gloves at his position? Remember the 32-year-old journeyman who came out of the gates this season swinging the bat better than ever?
If you are having trouble remembering, it is likely because Jose Lopez has helped you do so. Over the last 10 games – all 10 of which Hannahan was forced to sit out with an injured back – Lopez has manned third base and wielded a large bat. In Hannahan’s 10-game absence, Lopez has batted an amazing .353, with a home run and seven RBI. All of those RBI, much like Thursday’s fourth-inning game-winner, have seemingly come at key moments. Lopez has had a hit in all 10 games he has filled in at the hot corner.
All of this is from a guy who saw minimal playing time in April and was sent to the minors, with not one team in all of baseball wanting him, when the calendar turned to May. When the Tribe added veteran outfielder Johnny Damon to the roster on May 1, it was Lopez who was deemed expendable. Why not? He was batting under .200 at the time. Before Lopez could land at AAA-Columbus, however, he had to clear waivers. No other team put in a claim for the once-promising infielder and he stayed in the Cleveland organization.
Lopez was granted his second chance of the season at the majors when starting pitcher Josh Tomlin went on the disabled list on May 12. The team and Lopez have to be thrilled he didn’t go somewhere else at the beginning of the month. The Indians are 8-2 in Lopez’s 10 games and enjoying its hottest stretch of the year. It’s one that included a sweep of third-place Detroit and has pushed the Tribe to a three and one-half game lead over the second place White Sox, whom they face in Chicago this weekend.
For Lopez, the 10 games started, have given him new life. He now has a season batting average of .286, with two home runs and 10 RBI. He is likely not going away again, at least not any time soon.
This brings us to Hannahan. Hannahan will be back in the starting lineup, soon. It could be tonight, or some time this weekend. According to Indians manager Manny Acta, Hannahan has been available off the bench the past couple games if needed. Hannahan deserves to have his job back when he is healthy. At the time he started missing games, Hannahan was one of the Tribe’s better hitters. He is currently at .287, with three home runs and 18 RBI. Despite an unusually low .948 (a surprising five errors) fielding percentage, Hannahan has still made plays and got to ground balls this season that most guys can only dream of.
Hannahan will be back and starting soon. This, by no means, suggests the Indians should forget about Lopez. In fact, it is just the opposite. Cleveland needs to find ways to get Lopez in the lineup, on a regular basis. The good news is, Lopez is versatile in the field. This season, he has played first base and third base. In previous years, he has played second a lot. He broke into the majors, in 2004, as a shortstop. Lopez could play anywhere in the infield and DH. There is room to get him in the lineup four or five games a week.
An Indians team hurting for right-handed production at the plate has seemingly found some in the form of Lopez. He and Asdrubal Cabrera are leading the team right now from the right side. Losing Lopez’s bat entirely from the line up when Hannahan returns would be a huge mistake. After the past 10 games, Indians management should certainly see what it has in Lopez and play him much more now than he was played during his sparse time in April.
Photo: John Grieshop/Getty Images