Cleveland outfield prospect Tyler Naquin missed the final 10 weeks of the 2014 season with a fractured hand and he's eager to make up for lost time. But as he found out during his rehab, you don't need to be 100 percent healthy to continue being a student of the game.
The No. 5 Indians prospect went 3-for-6 with a double and a walk Tuesday in the Double-A Akron RubberDucks' 5-4, 14-inning win over the visiting Altoona Curve.
"I thought I played really well," said Naquin, who was 2-for-3 with a double and pair of walks against Bowie on Sunday and 2-for-5 with a double and a stolen base in the series opener against Altoona on Monday. "I'm just seeing the ball and not chasing many pitches. I'm just trying to not do too much.
"I'm just trying to be on time. Not trying to gear up or do too much. The way I can contribute to my team is to know who I am and and just try to hit the ball up the middle and square things up."
Naquin singled to left field to lead off the game, doubled to left with one out in the third and walked in the fifth. He beat out an infield single to shortstop Gift Ngoepe in the eighth, grounded out in the 10th and 12th and flew out to center in the 14th. He has three consecutive multi-hit games and is batting .364 in five Eastern League games this season.
The 24-year-out was hitting .313 with a team-high 54 runs scored in 76 games with the RubberDucks last season before getting hit on the right hand with a pitch in a game against the Harrisburg Senators on June 27.
He underwent surgery to repair a fractured second metacarpal at Cleveland Clinic on July 3 -- the same day second baseman Joe Wendle also had surgery to repair a broken hamate bone in his right hand -- and he's been working his way back to full health ever since.
"The first couple weeks were pretty rough getting that thing moving," Texas native Naquin said about moving his index finger. "Toward the end of the season, I started to make some progress. I made a lot more progress when I went out to the Dominican Republic in October. Then when I went home to Texas, I worked with my old trainer Josh Cohen at Texas A&M, who helped get more mobility back. Then in Spring Training the Indians' trainers helped me a ton.
"It's not 100 percent mobile yet, but I can play with it. I can't close my hands all the way around the bat with that index finger ... but I would say I have about 80 percent mobility back."
Selected in the first round of the 2012 Draft, Naquin went 9-for-41 with nine strikeouts in 12 games for the Gigantes del Cibao between Oct. 18 and Nov. 8 despite being just three months removed from surgery that involved putting a metal plate and screw in his right hand. Back with some familiar faces in Akron, he's just happy to be competing again.
"I got around 40 at-bats," said Naquin of his Dominican Winter League experience. "I couldn't hold the bat very well, but the Indians organization made a point that I saw some pitches. As long as I was tracking the ball and moving my legs, it didn't really matter about the stats.
"I have a lot of close friends on this team, so being with these guys again is fun. Being able to plan and show what I can do is good because I know I can help this team win. ... I like being exciting. I like to make the big plays and play with high energy. I'm ready to go all the time, man."
Akron starter Mike Clevinger allowed a run on six hits while striking out three batters over six innings.
Altoona starter Zack Dodson scattered three hits and two walks while recording one strikeout over six scoreless frames and Josh Bell collected three hits. It was the first baseman's fourth multi-hit game of his past five outings, during which time he's hitting .462 (12-for-26).
The Curve scored three runs in the top of the 14th on a single, two walks and three errors. But the RubberDucks answered back in the bottom of the frame, plating four runs on two walks, three hits and a pair of hit batsmen -- the second of which plunked Jeremy Lucas with the bases loaded to force home Tony Wolters with the winning run.