Damon to join Tribe Tuesday in Chicago
Club hopes veteran outfielder awakes slumbering offense
CLEVELAND -- The Indians will have some help blowing into the Windy City this week. Veteran outfielder Johnny Damon will join the club for its upcoming road series against the White Sox.
Damon has spent the bulk of the past two weeks training at the Tribe's complex in Goodyear, Ariz., but he will have a locker awaiting him at U.S. Cellular Field on Tuesday, when the Indians open a three-game set.
When the Indians officially add Damon to the Major League roster, the team will need to make a subsequent transaction to clear room.
Cleveland signed the 38-year-old Damon to a Minor League contract on April 17, but the deal includes a base salary of $1.25 million once he is added to the big league roster. Since signing, Damon has participated in workouts and extended spring training games in Goodyear in preparation for joining the Indians.
The Indians indicated that their original plan was to have Damon advance to Minor League games -- likely with Triple-A Columbus -- prior to heading to Cleveland. Of course, plans have a way of changing. As of late, the Tribe's offense has sputtered, which possibly plays a role in the team's decision to accelerate Damon's arrival.
Over the past seven games, the Indians have managed just 17 runs and have gone 3-4. Cleveland has scored two runs or fewer in four of those games and the club is currently mired in an 11-game homerless drought that dates back to April 17. That marks the longest power outage for the team since a 14-game homerless streak in 1983.
Damon has spent most of the past two seasons working as a designated hitter, but he projects to garner most of his playing time in left field with the Indians. While in Arizona, Damon split his time between left field and DH in extended spring games, but the club has expressed confidence in the veteran's ability to move into the outfielder on a more regular basis.
Adding Damon helps bridge the gap to the expected return of sidelined center fielder Grady Sizemore, who remains on the 60-day disabled list while rehabbing from lower back surgery. Sizemore has initiated baseball activities and a light walk-jog program, but he is not eligible to be activated until June 3 at the earliest.
Cleveland already has a full-time DH in veteran Travis Hafner.
Shelley Duncan earned the Opening Day left-field job during Spring Training after spending the past few seasons primarily as a backup first baseman, left fielder and DH off the bench. The left-handed Damon and right-handed Duncan would presumably split the playing time in left, with Duncan offering added insurance at his other positions.
Duncan enjoyed a strong start to the season, hitting .333 (9-for-27) with two homers and 10 walks compared to six strikeouts. With his 0-for-3 performance against the Angels on Sunday, Duncan slipped to a .147 (5-for-34) average with no homers, 16 strikeouts and three walks in his last 10 games, dating back to April 18.
Over a 17-year big league career, Damon has hit .286 with a .353 on-base percentage and 2,723 hits in tours with the Royals, A's, Red Sox, Yankees, Tigers and Rays. Last season, Damon hit .261 with a .326 on-base percentage, 11 stolen bases, 16 home runs, 29 doubles, 73 RBIs and 81 runs scored in 150 games for Tampa Bay.
Right fielder Shin-Soo Choo, who has missed the past five games with a left hamstring injury, is expected to rejoin the Indians' lineup on Tuesday. Following Sunday's game, Tribe manager Manny Acta remained optimistic that Choo -- the team's No. 3 hitter -- would be able to avoid a trip to the disabled list.
If the disabled list is indeed ruled out for Choo, the Tribe will need to remove another player from the active roster to clear room for Damon, who is not currently on the team's 40-man roster, either. It is likely that a player will be designated for assignment in order to open a spot on the 40-man roster for Damon.