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."