CLEVELAND -- Michael Brantley has struggled out of the gate this season, forcing Indians manager Manny Acta to occasionally move him out of the leadoff spot in the lineup.
But Brantley's slow start seems to be a thing of the past.
Entering Thursday, the Indians center fielder was hitting .326 (29 of 89) with nine doubles and 10 RBIs in his last 22 games, dating back to April 25. Brantley improved his batting average from .196 to .276 during that span, and he has sparked the Indians from numerous spots in the lineup.
"Michael just gives you quality at-bats," Acta said. "He got in a deep hole at the beginning of the season, but he doesn't panic."
Brantley has hit fifth, sixth and seventh, in addition to the leadoff spot this season. He's hitting only .237 in the top spot, but is a sizzling .346 anywhere else in the order.
"When he gets guys on base, he can pick up those cheap RBIs and then give you quality at-bats when guys are in scoring position with two outs," Acta said. "He can start a rally if he's leading off the inning. He's very versatile for us, and I value his at-bats."
Choo a quick study in leadoff role
CLEVELAND -- It is still unclear who will be the Indians' best leadoff option over the long term. For now, though, they seem to have found a temporary solution in Shin-Soo Choo.
Choo -- who has also hit third, fourth and sixth in the lineup this season -- was hitting .462 (6 of 13) entering Thursday, with two doubles and a home run in three games since moving to the leadoff spot. He had a season-high three hits in Wednesday night's 9-3 win over the Mariners.
"Choo continues to set the table well," said Indians manager Manny Acta. "He's swinging the bat well and making things happen at the top of the order."
Choo said his approach hasn't changed in his new role, other than the fact that he's now being more aggressive at the plate. Even before the move to the leadoff spot, Choo was starting to heat up after a slow start to the season. Entering Thursday, he was hitting .333 (16 of 48) in 14 games since May 4.
"I'm more confident right now," Choo said. "It doesn't matter where I hit. Lineups are lineups. My goal is to be in the lineup every day, eight-hole or nine-hole, every day in the lineup. I think about it the same way. I don't stress about it or anything.
"I'm very comfortable in the leadoff spot right now."
Relieved Hannahan hopeful to return this weekend
CLEVELAND -- With a little peace of mind in hand, Indians third baseman Jack Hannahan grabbed his glove and played catch on Thursday morning at Progressive Field.
Hannahan remained out of the lineup due to tightness in his back, but the third baseman was hopeful that he would be able to return to Cleveland's lineup at some point during the upcoming three-game weekend series against the Marlins. That optimism came after an MRI exam revealed nothing serious.
"I was in a lot of pain," Hannahan said. "So it was a big relief when it came back and just showed inflammation."
Hannahan has been out of the Indians' starting lineup for four consecutive games after having pain flare up in his lower back following Sunday's game in Boston. The third baseman said he felt discomfort immediately after that game against the Red Sox, but the issue worsened over the course of the team's flight to Minnesota that night.
The MRI exam performed on Hannahan's back showed mild inflammation around the area of the facet joints. Hannahan is still considered day to day with the issue, though he felt much improved on Thursday morning. That is good news for the Indians, who have enjoyed having a resurgent Hannahan in the lineup this season.
Through 30 games, Hannahan has hit .287 with three home runs, six doubles and 18 RBIs. Hannahan has also hit at a .393 (11-for-28) clip with 17 RBIs with runners in scoring position. With runners in scoring position and two outs, Hannahan has posted a .500 (9-for-18) average with 14 RBIs.
"I feel a lot better than I did. This has been the best day," Hannahan said. "I feel like the inflammation and the spasms have gotten better. Today's the best I've felt. I'm hoping to play either Friday or Saturday."
Hafner leaves after HBP, but could return Friday
CLEVELAND -- Travis Hafner was forced to leave the Indians' 6-5 win against the Mariners on Thursday afternoon in the 11th inning after being hit on the right hand by a pitch earlier in the contest.
Indians manager Manny Acta said it's just a soft tissue injury to the bottom of Hafner's hand, but the designated hitter could not take his at-bat in the 11th inning, because swelling made it difficult to grip the bat. Hafner did not undergo an X-ray.
"He was having a tough time," Acta said following Thursday's win. "I'm expecting him to be ready tomorrow, but we'll see how the swelling goes down."
Hafner did not sound quite as optimistic, but he didn't rule out the possibility of playing Friday night in the opener of a three-game Interleague series against the Marlins.
"I don't know," Hafner said. "I think there's definitely a chance. We'll just ice it a bunch tonight and come in and see how it feels tomorrow. I can't really say [if I'll be able to play], but there's a chance."
When Hafner was hit by the Charlie Furbush offering in the ninth inning, he set an Indians record for being hit by a pitch the most times in a career (80). The previous record of 79 belonged to Nap Lajoie. Hafner has been hit by a pitch four times this season.
Asked after the game if he expects any kind of reward for breaking the record, Hafner smirked.
"A bucket of ice, I think," he joked.
Quote to note
"It's always good to come back after you have a really bad outing. It's always good to be able to go out there and perform [well], because it's probably going to give you more confidence and make you more comfortable for your next start."
-- Indians starter Ubaldo Jimenez, on his solid six-inning outing against Seattle on Wednesday
• Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner entered Thursday hitting .139 (5-for-36) with runners in scoring position this season. Hafner, who has hit .259 with a .397 on-base percentage through 33 games, used an RBI double in the fourth inning of Wednesday's 9-3 win over the Mariners to end an 0-for-25 slump with RISP.
"Somebody told me about it [a few] days ago," Hafner said of the slump. "I was pretty surprised when I heard it. Overall, I feel like I've been swinging the bat really well. It was good to get a hit there and break that up, but overall I feel good. I feel like I've been swinging the bat well."
• Indians manager Manny Acta and his ImpACTA Kids Foundation will award a pair of $2,500 scholarships to two qualifying Cleveland-area high school seniors this summer. The scholarships will be used toward their college educations. Visit the community page on Indians.com for more information. The submission deadline is June 11.
• Triple-A first baseman Matt LaPorta went 1-for-4 with his team-leading 11th home run of the season in a 6-2 win over Syracuse on Wednesday. LaPorta headed into Thursday ranked fifth in the International League with a .328 average, second in home runs and third in total bases (80).
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. Justin Albers is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.