BOSTON -- Indians starter Josh Tomlin was asked to offer a theory that would explain the increased strikeout rate he has turned in this season. Before he could answer, the pitcher was also asked not to say that he had no idea why it was happening."But I have no idea," Tomlin said with a laugh. Maybe it is due to having more experience, or perhaps Tomlin is making better pitches when ahead in the count. Whatever the right-hander is doing differently, it has propelled him to the top of the Tribe's rotation in terms of strikeouts per nine innings. Pressed for an explanation, Tomlin said he believes it has to do with a better approach when he gets hitters behind in the count. "I think I'm making better pitches 0-2 this year," Tomlin said. "That's really the only theory that's actually comprehensible. I don't know if that's the reason or not, but I've felt like I've made better pitches that look like strikes that are not strikes on 0-2 or 1-2 than I have the past couple years." Tomlin currently leads the Indians' rotation with seven strikeouts per nine innings. Last year, the righty ranked last on the starting staff with an average of 4.8 strikeouts per nine innings. Tomlin has already reached 30 percent (27) of his 2011 strikeout total (89) in only 21 percent (34 2/3) of his 2011 innings total (165 1/3). In three of his six starts this season, Tomlin has fanned at least seven hitters. On Monday, the right-hander set a career high with eight in a start against the White Sox. Last year, Tomlin struck out at least six batters just twice in his 26 appearances for Cleveland. His swinging-strike percentage has jumped from 13 percent last year to 17 percent this year. "I don't care if I strike guys out," Tomlin said. "I want to get them out on two or three pitches and hopefully throw long into the game. If i strike him out in three or four pitches, I'm OK with it, but if it's 3-2, or 2-2 and he's fouling five pitches off, I'd rather not. I think it's just more of a flukey thing right now. "I think it'll probably end up evening out throughout the course of the year. I don't think I'm going to average seven strikeouts per nine innings the entire year."
Damon hoping to get right at the plate
BOSTON -- No one is more disappointed in the way Johnny Damon has performed at the plate than the outfielder himself, and he is searching for something to turn things around. Perhaps a few games in a familiar place can get Damon going."Hopefully getting back to Boston will be a jump-start for me," Damon said. On Thursday afternoon, Damon sat inside the visitors' dugout at Fenway Park, discussing his latest trip back to the ballpark he once called home. After multiple questions from Boston reporters, the 38-year-old outfielder tacked on a comment that provided a glimpse into the frustration he is feeling at the moment. "I've got to get the bat going," he said repeatedly. Through his first eight games with the Indians, Damon has hit .167 (5-for-30) as Cleveland's leadoff man. Following an 8-1 loss to the White Sox on Wednesday night, when Damon went 0-for-4, he expressed disappointment over his rough start for a ballclub that is trying to stay in first place in the American League Central. "I'm the leadoff guy, and I've been pretty awful," Damon said. "It affects the guys coming up, the guys who drive the runs in -- [Jason] Kipnis and [Asdrubal] Cabrera. I definitely need to get it going." The Indians signed Damon to a Minor League contract on April 17, and he spent roughly two weeks in extended spring training before joining Cleveland on May 1. Damon would not blame his lack of a real Spring Training for his offensive woes. "That's not an excuse anymore, or ever was," he said. "It seems like lately I've been swinging at the pitches just off and taking the really good ones. [Doing that] in this game is going to be really tough to produce. That's pretty much what I'm doing. The swing, I think the first couple days, may have been a little lazy and not where I want it to be." Indians manager Manny Acta noted recently that Damon has not reached a point where he can play every day. On Thursday -- despite Damon's comments -- Acta was quick to point out that the veteran outfielder did not have the benefit of going through a typical spring program. "As much as you want to downplay it and all that, he didn't go through Spring Training," Acta said. "Guys that go through Spring Training, even regular guys that you're trying to take care of, they have 60 at-bats in better competition than extended spring. Some guys get close to 100 at times. "He's had some good swings. He's hit some balls hard. Hopefully, he starts contributing for us. You have to appreciate that the guy owns up and understands the situation."
Kotchman's average is on the rise
BOSTON -- Indians manager Manny Acta has insisted all along that the hits would eventually start falling for struggling first baseman Casey Kotchman. Slowly but surely, Kotchman's offensive showing appears to be on the upswing for Cleveland."That was coming," Acta said. "He's been working hard and minimizing the body movement at the plate. It seems like in the last couple of series he's been staying behind the ball better." Entering Thursday's game against the Red Sox, Kotchman was hitting .381 (8-for-21) with three multihit games in his past seven contests. In his previous 18 games, he hit at a .143 (10-for-70) clip with just one multihit game along the way. Kotchman had hit .294 with a .368 on-base percentage in his past 11 games. Overall, Kotchman was hitting .198 through 25 games heading into Thursday's action. It has been a sub-par start for the first baseman, who hit .306 in 146 games for the Rays last season and signed a one-year contract worth $3 million with Cleveland over the winter. "We're expecting him to come around," Acta said. "This guy is a lifetime [.265] hitter, and he had a very good season last year. It's still early. I know he's got himself in a pretty deep hole, but he's going to get better. He's been around. He's going to keep playing and I'm sure he's going to do some good things for us."
Quote to note
"If it happens, it happens. The way I'm swinging right now, it might take another 10 years."
-- Indians outfielder Johnny Damon, on chasing 3,000 hits
The Indians' current starting nine includes seven left-handed hitters and two switch-hitters, which has led to teams throwing a lot of left-handed pitchers at the Tribe. Heading into Thursday, Cleveland's offense had an Major League-high 415 at-bats against lefties this season, but ranked 26th with a .222 average against southpaws. The Red Sox silenced their public-address microphone at Fenway Park for Thursday's game against the Indians in memory of Carl Beane, who died in a car crash Wednesday after suffering a heart attack. Beane, who was 59, served as the Fenway Park PA announcer since the 2003 season. Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner entered Thursday sporting the sixth-best road batting average (.371) in the American League. Second baseman Jason Kipnis ranked seventh in the AL with a .370 road average. Cleveland boasts a Major League-best 9-3 (.750 winning percentage) record on the road.