CHICAGO -- Michael Brantley headed into this season looking forward to the challenge of being the Indians' everyday leadoff man, but the young center fielder is now being asked to share those duties with newly acquired outfielder Johnny Damon.
On Wednesday, Indians manager Manny Acta gave Damon the nod as the leadoff man for his Cleveland debut, dropping Brantley to the seventh spot in the lineup in the process. One thing is clear: Brantley is happy to have a veteran like Damon as a teammate.
"He's phenomenal," Brantley said. "We talked a little bit already. He's just a class-act person. He's already taking young guys in and teaching them some things. We were talking about different situations already. He's a pleasure to have."
Asked about moving out of the leadoff spot, though, and this is the response Brantley offered:
"That's a better question for Manny," Brantley said.
Told that Brantley deferred to him, Acta smiled and said the center fielder was willing to do "whatever it takes to help the team."
Acta has made it clear that the 38-year-old Damon, who boasts a .353 career on-base percentage, will serve as the leadoff man in the games he plays. On Wednesday, the manager would not commit to using Brantley in the No. 1 spot for the games that Damon is on the bench.
Through 19 games, Brantley was hitting .238 with a .307 on-base percentage. The 24-year-old has been performing better of late, however. Entering Wednesday, Brantley had hit .333 (8-for-24) with a .385 on-base percentage in his past six games.
For Wednesday's game against the White Sox, Acta also moved second baseman Jason Kipnis back into the second slot and dropped right fielder Shin-Soo Choo -- the No. 3 hitter for most of this season -- to the sixth hole. Choo was back in the lineup after missing the previous six games with a mild left hamstring injury.
As for Brantley, he said he is only worried about what he can control.
"My job is to come here and just play baseball," he said. "And just play hard each and every day."
Damon's debut for Tribe cut short by cramping
CHICAGO -- Indians outfielder Johnny Damon was admittedly a little embarrassed about exiting Wednesday's 6-3 win over the White Sox in bottom of the sixth inning.
Cleveland cited "general cramping" as the reason behind Damon's early departure, and he backed up that description by rattling off a short list of issues. The bottom line was that Damon felt tightness throughout his body, but no single ailment is believed to be serious enough to keep him out of the lineup for Thursday's game in Chicago.
"I felt it in my hands, the back, the calves," Damon said on Wednesday night. "I was like, 'You've got to be kidding me.' Sometimes I guess when you get jacked up and ready to go, this kind of stuff can happen. I plan to be ready tomorrow."
Damon, who was officially added to the roster on Tuesday, went 0-for-3 with a walk in his Indians debut on Wednesday. The 38-year-old felt a few areas of his body tightening up prior to his final at-bat in the sixth inning and decided it was best to pull himself out of the game. Shelley Duncan took over in left field.
Prior to joining the Indians in Chicago, Damon spent two weeks training in dry conditions at the club's facility in Goodyear, Ariz. He believes the humidity in Chicago played a role in the cramping. Damon noted that he takes blood-pressure medication due to a hereditary issue, and that can deplete the potassium levels in his body.
Damon planned on taking some potassium supplements and hydrating leading up to Thursday's game.
"It's a little embarrassing," Damon said. "I did everything I needed to do. I think I'm just not used to the humidity here. That's just one of those freak things."
Ubaldo working to correct flaw in mechanics
CHICAGO -- The Indians hoped they had landed an ace when they swung the blockbuster trade last summer to acquire starter Ubaldo Jimenez. Instead, Cleveland inherited a project that has persisted into the second month of the pitcher's second season with the club.
After Jimenez's latest effort, Tribe manager Manny Acta admitted that the right-hander is working on a mechanical adjustment that the Indians hope will lead to better results. Jimenez added that the wave of woes that have dogged him since his arrival to Cleveland have been hard to handle at times.
"It's not easy. It's not easy to take," Jimenez said. "The only thing is I'm going to keep working on it, and I know it's going to be for my own good and for the team. Once I get it, it's going to be there. I won't have to be worrying about it anymore."
The mechanical tweak involves Jimenez's left shoulder. While poring over video roughly a week ago, Indians pitching coach Scott Radinsky noticed that Jimenez's lead shoulder was dropping more than in the past. Specifically, Radinsky was comparing footage from the past two years to video from Jimenez's stellar 2010 campaign.
Jimenez has been working hard in his side sessions on getting back to his prior form.
"It's not only [about velocity]," Jimenez said. "It's trying to get myself in a better position to deliver the ball. That's something I haven't been doing. My front shoulder has been too open, so I'm trying to work on creating torque and power out of it. That's something I did before."
In Tuesday's 7-2 loss to the White Sox, Jimenez threw just 54 of his 105 pitches for strikes in a 4 2/3-inning performance. On the season, the righty has a 5.02 ERA with more walks (20) than strikeouts (14) in 28 2/3 innings. His averages of 9.4 hits, 6.3 walks and 4.4 strikeouts per nine innings are all on pace for the worst marks of his career.
Beyond that, Jimenez's velocity on each of his pitches has dropped significantly for the second season in a row. His fastball is down to 92 mph on average after being a big league-best 96.1 mph in 2010. As a result, hitters are making better contact (85 percent of the time) and Jimenez is getting fewer swings-and-misses (10 percent) than in the past.
"He's had some mechanical adjustments to make," Acta said. "He's working on it. Obviously, that's the reason why some stuff like his velocity and his command hasn't been the same. He's aware of it and he's working on it. It's very easy to see it and to hear it, but it's kind of tougher to actually get them done. It's about muscle memory and repetition.
Indians pleased with progress of LaPorta
CHICAGO -- Whether the numbers are good or bad, the Indians are not rushing to judgment only one month into a season.
Consider the current situation at first base. Veteran Casey Kotchman -- signed to assume Matt LaPorta's former big league role -- has labored out of the gates in his first tour with the Tribe. Meanwhile, LaPorta has put up incredibly strong numbers one month into the Minor League season with Triple-A Columbus.
"We're not contemplating any moves right now," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "It's only been one month. We have to give everybody up here a fair shot."
That said, Acta said the Indians have been very encouraged by LaPorta's early showing at Triple-A. Through 21 games with the Clippers, the 27-year-old LaPorta was hitting .380 with eight home runs, six doubles, 17 RBIs and 17 runs scored.
LaPorta's progress goes beyond the box score, though.
"It's not about the numbers," Acta said. "It's about the quality of the at-bats and what he's working on. They're encouraged by the fact that he's been using his legs better and laying off some off-speed stuff due to that. That's what we've looked at."
Last season, LaPorta hit .247 with 11 home runs and 53 RBIs in 107 games for the Indians, who signed Kotchman to a one-year deal worth $3 million over the offseason. Entering Wednesday's game with the White Sox, Kotchman was batting just .149 with two homers and four RBIs in his first 17 games.
The Indians are not about to push the panic button when it comes to Kotchman. Part of the reason is that LaPorta has hit well against Minor League pitching plenty of times throughout his career. Overall, LaPorta has hit .305 with a .977 OPS in the Minors compared with .238 with a .701 OPS in parts of three seasons in the Majors.
"We've seen in the past some guys hit down there," Acta said. "It's up here that counts."
Quote to note
"It's nobody's fault except for the people running the fireworks. That's whose fault it is. It's unfortunate that something like that can happen in a big league ballpark."
--Indians infielder Jason Donald, who lost a fly ball in fireworks smoke in the third inning of Tuesday's 7-2 loss to the White Sox
Major League Baseball overturned two scoring decisions from Cleveland's recent weekend series against the Angels. Asdrubal Cabrera was awarded a double for the ball that Angels right fielder Torii Hunter lost in the sun during the fifth inning on Sunday. Hunter was originally charged with a two-base error. Los Angeles' Erick Aybar was also given an infield single for what was initially deemed an error by second baseman Jason Kipnis in the fourth inning on Saturday.
Double-A Akron right-hander Bryce Stowell has been placed on the Minor League disabled list with a right forearm strain. Through his first four games of the season, Stowell has piled up 15 strikeouts against no walks over seven shutout innings.
Shelley Duncan's seventh-inning solo home run in Tuesday's 7-2 loss to the White Sox snapped an 11-game homerless drought for the Tribe. It was the longest power outage for the club since a 14-game streak without a long ball from April 10-27, 1983.