NEW YORK -- Johnny Damon smiles when asked for his thoughts about returning to Yankee Stadium. The veteran outfielder spent four seasons wearing pinstripes and helped New York win a World Series in his time in the Bronx.
"The only thing I know is I left here a champion," said Damon, who now roams left field for the Indians. "That's something that I'll have forever."
Being back in New York is hardly the only reason Damon was smiling on Monday, though. Over the past few weeks, the 38-year-old outfielder has seen his offensive production steadily rise. Damon is hoping that his performance of late is a sign that he is over the brutal slump that began when he joined Cleveland on May 1.
Over his past 18 games, dating back to May 30, Damon has hit .280 with a .368 on-base percentage and an .828 on-base plus slugging percentage. In the 22 games prior to that stretch, the outfielder hit .152 with a .239 OBP and a .466 OPS.
Damon is hitting .202 with three home runs and 13 RBIs in 40 games overall.
"When I got up here," Damon said, "I started taking a lot of pitches and trying to see more pitches to speed myself up. In actuality, I didn't need to see that many pitches. I needed to swing at strikes. That's what I wasn't doing. I'm going up [now] with the approach that I've got to hit."
Indians manager Manny Acta said he has been impressed with what Damon has brought to the clubhouse, even when the outfielder was struggling.
"He has never taken the slow start or where he's been or what he's done into our clubhouse," Acta said. "Everybody can be a leader when they're hitting or when they're pitching well. It takes character to still listen and answer questions, put your arm around guys, be able to give advice, when you're hitting .190 and struggling.
"Johnny has been the same every day here. That's something that we value."
Tribe options Gomez; Barnes joins 'pen
NEW YORK -- The Indians reached a point where a change was needed in their rotation. With first place in the American League Central on the line, Cleveland could ill afford to carry on with the prolonged struggles of right-hander Jeanmar Gomez.
Prior to Monday's game against the Yankees, the Indians optioned Gomez to Triple-A Columbus and recalled left-hander Scott Barnes from Triple-A to give the bullpen an extra arm for a few days. Come Thursday, Columbus righty Zach McAllister is expected to replace Gomez in the Tribe's starting staff.
"We're expecting to recall McAllister to start in [Gomez's] spot," Acta said on Monday. "This is not a one-and-done type of thing. When Zach came up earlier, he threw the ball well for us."
McAllister, 24, went 1-1 with a 3.96 ERA in four starts for Cleveland earlier this season. The right-hander struck out 22 and walked six in the 25 innings he logged for the Tribe. In 11 starts for Columbus, McAllister has gone 5-2 with a 2.98 ERA, 52 strikeouts and 19 walks over 63 1/3 innings.
Gomez, who earned a spot on the starting staff with a stellar showing this spring, endured a stretch of rough outings of late. Over his past six starts for Cleveland, the 24-year-old right-hander went 1-5 with a 7.92 ERA, striking out 12 and walking 13 with 42 hits allowed over 30 2/3 innings.
During that span, Gomez saw his ERA climb to 5.18 from 3.19, and his record dropped to 4-7 through 14 appearances.
"It's about consistency throughout the game and throughout outings every five days," Acta said. "[Gomez needs to work on] staying aggressive with his fastball and pitching ahead in the count, and then getting back to being more consistent with his delivery from the stretch. He ran into a lot of trouble with that, not being able to stay back and leaving pitches up in the zone."
Barnes returns to the Indians after a brief tour with the club earlier this season. In four big league appearances, the 24-year-old lefty allowed five runs in 4 1/3 innings, but he has shown promise as a reliever in the Minors. In 11 relief appearances for Columbus, Barnes posted a 2.35 ERA with 18 strikeouts in 15 innings.
Overall, Barnes posted a 3.73 ERA in 14 games (three starts) for the Clippers. Over 31 1/3 innings, the he piled up 35 strikeouts against 15 walks with a .188 opponents' batting average.
Acta patient as Indians approach Deadline
NEW YORK -- The Indians finished behind the White Sox in the Kevin Youkilis sweepstakes. Cleveland is hoping that one missed trade opportunity does not net a similar result in the American League Central standings when it is all said and done this season.
On Monday, Indians manager Manny Acta expressed confidence that the ballclub would continue to aggressively pursue upgrades on the trade front leading up to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.
"Our front office doesn't stop trying to make our team better," Acta said. "But it takes two to tango. It's not as easy as people think it is, and it's got to be something that makes sense for us."
Cleveland's most glaring needs at the moment are a right-handed bat -- preferably for left field -- along with rotation and middle-relief help.
The Indians were linked to Youkilis in trade reports over the past couple of weeks, but it was the White Sox who pried the third baseman away from the Red Sox on Sunday. Chicago sent right-hander Zach Stewart and utility man Brent Lillibridge to Boston to complete the trade.
Youkilis hit .233 with a .315 on-base percentage through 42 games with the Red Sox this season. Over his past 76 games, dating back to last year, the veteran infielder has hit .211 (58-for-275) with eight homers and 29 RBIs. Youkilis has a solid track record, however, and that is why he would appeal to contending clubs like Chicago and Cleveland.
"You know that he's going to make them better," Acta said. "He's been such a good player, and he's been here and done that. But you just cant waste time worrying about that. ... We understand what we have, and we just have to deal with it.
"Hopefully we can get a push either at the Deadline or somewhere along the line."
Quote to note
"Right now, all you think about is trying to get better so you can get in the lineup, so you can get that consistency more. But when you're hitting .200, it's real tough to make a strong case and say, 'OK, I need to play every day for me to get better.'"
Acta noted on Monday that designated hitter Travis Hafner, on the disabled list after undergoing arthroscopic right knee surgery, could head out on a Minor League rehab assignment within the "next couple of days." Acta added that Hafner, who is in Cleveland, was scheduled to do some running drills on Monday and then some sliding tests on Tuesday.
Indians right-hander Carlos Carrasco, who underwent Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow last September, was re-evaluated by Dr. David Altchek in New York on Monday. Carrasco said everything went well and he is slated to throw a 60-pitch bullpen session on Tuesday at Yankee Stadium.
Entering Monday, Indians first baseman Casey Kotchman had hit safely in seven of hit past eight games, with a .345 (10-for-29) average during that stretch. Kotchman also had two homers and six RBIs in that span, helping raise his batting average to a season-high .230 from .212.