Johnny Damon set to join Indians
CLEVELAND -- Johnny Damon brings a presence to the top of Cleveland's lineup and professionalism to its clubhouse.
Big bonuses for the ballclub.
However, what the Indians are craving is some power.
In fact, any power.
Damon, who has spent the past few weeks at the club's facility in Goodyear, Ariz., warming up a swing that has produced nearly 3,000 hits and readying his legs for the grind of his 18th season in the majors, will join the AL Central-leading Indians on Tuesday in Chicago when they open a three-game series against the White Sox.
Cleveland signed the 38-year-old outfielder on April 17, a minimal-risk move made to upgrade the club's outfield and potentially ignite a sputtering offense.
Although they're in first place, the Indians have been wildly inconsistent at the plate and have gone 11 consecutive games without a home run. According to STATS LLC, Cleveland's homerless drought is the majors' third-longest since 2000. Only the Los Angeles Angels in 2007 (14 games) and San Francisco Giants in 2008 (12) had longer gaps between home runs.
"We'll hit another one," deadpanned Indians manager Manny Acta following Sunday's 4-0 win over the Angels.
Maybe Damon's arrival will be the spark to end the power outage.
The Indians signed him to a minor league deal that will become a one-year, $1.25 million major league contract when he's added to the 40-man roster. Damon can make another $1.4 million in performance bonuses based on plate appearances. The Indians will have to clear a roster spot to make room for Damon, who was initially expected to spend some time in the minor leagues.
But he'll open May with the Indians.
The club was 1-4 when it agreed to terms with Damon. Since then, the Indians have gone 10-5, but their offense has remained as unpredictable as the spring weather. Cleveland has scored just 17 runs in the past seven games, going 3-4 in that span. On Sunday, the Indians got two of their runs when Los Angeles right fielder Torii Hunter lost a ball in the sun.
Damon was initially expected to share playing time in left field with Shelley Duncan, who won the starting job in training camp and got off to a great start but is slumping badly.
In Cleveland's first nine games, Duncan batted .333 with two homers, six RBIs and 10 walks, an early surprise for Acta. But in Duncan's last 10 games, the free swinger is hitting only .147 with no homers and 16 strikeouts. He's fanned 12 times in his past seven games, becoming almost an automatic out.
Damon will likely start immediately in left field for Acta against the White Sox, and he could be joined in Cleveland's outfield by Shin-Soo Choo, who is expected to return after missing five games with a strained left hamstring.
Damon is just 277 hits shy of 3,000 for his career, and although he won't get to the milestone this season, his addition could have a major impact on the Indians, who are hoping to stay in the playoff race until the end after fading down the stretch last season. Damon was initially viewed as a stop-gap measure until Grady Sizemore (back surgery) comes off the disabled list, but there's no guarantee the three-time All-Star will produce the way he once did for Cleveland.
Sizemore has resumed baseball activities but isn't eligible to come off the 60-day disabled list until June 3.
Damon, who batted .261 with 16 homers and 73 RBIs mostly as a designated hitter last season for Tampa Bay, brings stability and invaluable postseason experience to the Indians, who will need a player of that pedigree to guide some of the club's younger players later this season.
Damon will wear No. 33 for the Indians.
Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press