CLEVELAND -- Shin-Soo Choo believes a simple switch in his mindset has helped him find a comfort zone with his swing. The Indians right fielder is no longer trying to guide pitches to particular parts of the field.
"The first two months of the season," Choo said, "even before swinging, I was already thinking about where the ball would go. Now, I'm more focused on making contact. I'm not worried about where I'm hitting it. I'm seeing the ball and focusing on the contact area. Then, wherever the ball goes, it goes."
Entering Tuesday's game with Cincinnati, Choo had hit .287 with six home runs and 15 RBIs in his last 43 games, dating back to May 4. During that span, the outfielder -- now entrenched as the club's leadoff man -- has raised his season average to .265 from .209.
Three of Choo's home runs in that stretch have come in his last five games.
"We know that the power is there," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "It was about the consistency of his swing and being patient. It's starting to come. I know that at the end of the year his numbers are going to be there. He's pretty comfortable right now in a good spot. He gradually has gotten better since the beginning of the season."
Beyond his approach, Choo said a key has been improved production against fastballs.
"I'm a very good fastball hitter," Choo said. "But in April and May, I had so many missed fastballs -- even at like 92-94 mph. I couldn't hit it. Foul balls. Swings and misses. That was a problem. There was something wrong with my timing.
"So I'm starting early and not thinking about where I'm hitting the ball, just focusing on the hitting area."
Choo believes hitting leadoff has helped him find his rhythm, because it has offered the chance to have more plate appearances each game.
"I don't mind any spot in the lineup," Choo said. "The only reason I like the leadoff spot, or being in the top of the order, is you get extra at-bats. That's why I like the top of the order. I think that's helped."
Indians, Reds putting sign-stealing issue to rest
CLEVELAND -- Although Reds starter Mat Latos strongly indicated Monday that Indians hitters were stealing signs from second base, the accusation did not gain traction on Tuesday.
"I'm not going to accuse anybody of something that I'm not sure of," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "You don't really have to steal signs when the ball is over the heart of the plate and up. ... It just wasn't a quality night. [Latos] made a number of mistakes last night."
During a 10-9 Reds loss to the Indians, Latos got a no-decision after he gave up seven runs and eight hits over four innings while blowing three leads. Seven of the hits went for extra bases, including three homers. He felt that the Indians had "better swings on the ball than they did most of the time without a runner on second base."
- 142 wins
- 110 wins
Indians manager Manny Acta denied that any sign stealing went on.
"I don't think our kids are into that. We don't teach that," Acta said. "Hey, you're going to get hit sometimes. We go through it sometimes here, too. When kids struggle, they seem to think that people are relaying signs. There's nothing to it. This is the big leagues. Everybody can hit a 99-mph fastball, and anybody can hit a pitch over the plate. They're going to do it sometimes. They do it to the great [Justin] Verlander and some other guys."
Reds catcher Ryan Hanigan acknowledged that he and Latos changed signs in the fourth inning, but not before the damage was done. Hanigan put the responsibility of protecting signs on his own club.
"I always watch to see if the hitters at second are looking in, even while I'm giving the signs," Hanigan said. "I try to give the signs quickly and try to see if I see movement or anything. I pay attention to stuff like that to make sure it doesn't happen. If they were getting signs, it's not acceptable. It's something that's preventable. I don't think that was necessarily at all the reason why things didn't go the way they needed to go last night."
One unnamed Indians hitter felt that Latos had a more pressing issue on his hands.
"Tell him you don't have to steal signs when you're tipping pitches," he said.
Bruised Damon out of lineup after misplay
CLEVELAND -- Johnny Damon's misadventure in left field in the fifth inning of Monday's 10-9 victory over the Reds left him bruised and sore, leading to a day off from being in the starting lineup Tuesday against Cincinnati.
"He was pretty banged up after that one," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "He was pretty sore in the lower back area. He's played a few games in a row, too. We'll try to give him a day off."
In the fifth, Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips pulled a pitch from Derek Lowe down the left-field line, where it skipped into foul territory and kicked off a side wall. On the play, Damon lunged at the ball in an effort to block it, but the ball got by him and skipped into left field as he slammed into the wall.
"I wouldn't make a good hockey goalie," Damon quipped.
The miscue led to a two-base error, allowing Phillips to score on the play. Phillips, however, is appealing Major League Baseball to change the scoring decision to an inside-the-park home run.
It was not the first ball misplayed in left field for the 38-year-old Damon, though Acta is quick to note that the Indians did not sign the veteran for his abilities in the field.
"I think everybody is well aware that Johnny, he's not a Gold Glove-caliber player," Acta said. "I think we know that he has spent a lot of years DH'ing at the end [of his career]. We got him over here to help us out with our offense."
Through 37 games with Cleveland, Damon has hit .190 (23-for-121) with two home runs and 11 RBIs. Entering Tuesday, however, Damon had hit at a .262 (11-for-42) clip with one homer and six RBIs in his last 15 games.
Quote to note
"That's great [that] people think that our kids are so bright and so smart this early that they can do all that. It gives us some advantage. Make sure you write about it, so the other clubs will go crazy when we come into town, and start changing signs and catchers get crossed up and we advance runners and stuff."
-- Indians manager Manny Acta, joking about claims that his team has tried to steal signs
While discussing the complicated nature of making a trade acquisition, Indians manager Manny Acta said on Monday that "it's not like going to the store and grabbing a can of tomato sauce." Prior to Tuesday's game against the Reds, a can of tomato sauce was waiting by Acta's seat when he arrived for his daily interview session.
"Does he bat from the right side?" said Acta, who picked up the can and began laughing. "Does he have power? Play good defense?"
Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner (on the 15-day disabled list after undergoing right knee surgery on May 31) began a jogging program on Tuesday. Left-hander Rafael Perez (on the 60-day DL with a left lat injury) is slated to resume a throwing program on Wednesday. Righty Carlos Carrasco (right elbow) is scheduled for a checkup with Dr. David Altcheck next week during the Tribe's series in New York. Carrasco is slated to throw a bullpen session at Yankee Stadium while with the team for the three-game set, which opens Monday.
On Tuesday, the Indians named Class A Advanced Carolina outfielder Anthony Gallas the organization's Minor League Player of the Week for the period of May 28-June 3. During that span, the 24-year-old Gallas hit .478 (11-for-23) with three homers, one double and seven RBIs for the Mudcats.
The Indians signed fifth-round Draft pick right-hander Dylan Baker and outfielder Josh Schubert-McAdams (seventh round) on Tuesday. With the pair of contracts completed, Cleveland has now signed 17 of its 40 picks, including 11 of the top 14 selections.
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.