The Cleveland Indians are coming off of a recent 9-game road trip during which they went 7-2. It was an impressive trip and gives them the second best road record in baseball behind the Rangers.
The Indians return home this week and Shelley Duncan remains the starter in left field. This may change soon enough though, as Johnny Damon is set to join the team in a matter of weeks.
He is currently out in Arizona at the spring training facility getting back into game shape.
Former World Series champion Johnny Damon will provide outfield insurance for the Indians until Grady Sizemore can return. (Photo by Keith Allison on Flickr via Wikimedia Commons)
When Damon is ready to join the team, the only place for him to play is in left. That is where he was signed to play, but it will be interesting to see how Manny Acta utilizes Damon.
Putting him in left field as the starter takes Duncan’s bat out of the lineup, which could hurt the offense. Duncan currently has the team’s second-highest on-base percentage (.434), the fourth-highest average (.268), and the fourth-highest OPS (.885).
These numbers may not seem to be that great, but Duncan is tied for second in walks (12), and he has only made one error on the season. His defense was a question coming in, but he has made more highlight plays than mistakes.
One thing to note is that Duncan is sometimes pulled around the seventh inning in favor of Aaron Cunningham, who comes in as a defensive replacement. Johnny Damon has a notoriously weak arm, so Acta could even have thoughts of doing the same thing with Damon.
Putting Damon at DH is also out of the question, as Travis Hafner is currently the team’s best hitter with an average of .357. If Damon hit right-handed, then he could potentially see some time at DH, but there is no logical reason to remove Hafner’s bat from the lineup at this time.
The most likely scenario that will allow both Damon and Duncan to get sufficient playing time is to set up a platoon system in left. Damon would play against right-handed pitchers, and Duncan would face the left-handers. Duncan could also be at DH if Travis Hafner needs a day off, which would allow him to keep his rhythm at the plate.
This will all change once Grady Sizemore returns, which may lead to Damon being released. It was originally reported that he would have an opt-out clause upon Sizemore’s return, but it has recently been reported that instead of opting out he and the team would mutually agree to a release if necessary.
Sizemore is not scheduled to return until June, and with his injury history, that date could be pushed back. If Damon and Duncan are holding down left field by themselves, a trade of Sizemore should not be entirely ruled out. This decision will not be made until June, which gives the Indians’ front office plenty of time to evaluate the situation in left field.