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Raburn making powerful push early for roster spot

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Terry Francona had a few players in mind as potential targets when he took over as manager of the Indians. On his first day on the job, he asked general manager Chris Antonetti to keep Ryan Raburn in mind.

"He's a guy we targeted," Francona said. "I remember saying, 'If this guy gets taken off the roster,' and Chris said, 'I like him, too.'"

In Saturday's 13-10 Cactus League victory over the Reds, Raburn belted a pair of home runs for the Indians. The utility man -- in camp on a Minor League contract -- now has three long balls through Cleveland's first two exhibition games.

Raburn has stormed out of the gates in his bid for a spot on the Tribe's bench.

"This is like the regular season for these guys," Francona said. "He understands that. It's the second game, but it's still nice to see. He's taken a couple of nice swings. It's fun to watch."

Raburn, who was in Detroit's Opening Day lineup a year ago, was released by the Tigers in November. The Indians signed Raburn, 31, in January and have brought him into 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.

Last year, Raburn enjoyed a strong spring -- he had six homers and 19 RBIs in 21 games -- but then hit .171 with one homer and 12 RBIs in 66 games for the Tigers in the regular season. He battled a deep early-season slump, was demoted to Triple-A Toledo in May and fought injuries in a second-half return to the big leagues.

For his career, the right-handed hitter has posted a .256 average with a .311 on-base percentage in 566 career games (all with Detroit) over seven seasons. Between the 2009-11 campaigns, he hit .274 with a .329 on-base percentage and an average of 15 home runs and 52 RBIs per year for the Tigers.

Cleveland is hoping Raburn can piece together a solid comeback.

"He had a tough year. That happens," Francona said. "If he would've had a good year, we wouldn't have had a chance to get him. You have a guy with talent that the Tigers felt deserved the chance to be their starting second baseman. So there's something there."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian.