Reserve Aviles Proving Value as Starter

An injury is never a good thing. However, when Cleveland All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis went down with a strained oblique in late April, it opened the door for Mike Aviles.

A substitute, who can play multiple positions, Aviles sees his share of playing time. However, since the start of May, Aviles has played nearly everyday with Kipnis out of the lineup. Aviles has done nothing but help the offense get out of the malaise it was in during the season’s first month.

Aviles, in playing all but two games this month, has hit .405 with a home run and six RBI since the Tribe lost one of its best players. He has 15 hits in 37 at-bats. The hit total is already more than the 12 he had in all of April when his playing time was more sporatic and he received just 50 at bats.

A veteran of seven seasons and with his third Major League team, the 33-year-old has never really been known for his bat. Aviles’ .274 career batting average is decent and has allowed him to be cherished as a good guy to have off the bench.

In 2013, the first season Aviles spent with Cleveland, the part-time player received some of the most work he has seen in his career. He played in 124 games and hit .282. The Indians rewarded him with a two-year contract extension – the 2015 season being a team option. The way Aviles is filling in as a regular and the way he has hit off the bench seem to make it a no-brainer that the Tribe will pick that up.

More so, however, than the way Aviles is hitting the ball of late is his glove. It is his career fielding that has really made him a commodity in the game. Aviles is able to play second base, shortstop, third base and left field. He plays them all reasonably well. Between the four spots on the field, Aviles has just one error this season in 28 games played. The lone gaffe was at third, a spot where errors are typically made more than any other.

Aviles will never kill a team at the plate or in the field. Most of the time, he will not be hero, although he does have one walk-off hit this month. What Aviles typically is, is a steady player who will help more than hinder, but will not carry a team. He is the prototypical team player and one of the better reserves in the game.

Aviles seems to be thriving as a starter, enjoying a great two-week stretch at the plate. With Kipnis down, Tribe manager Terry Francona has had kuttke reason to keep Aviles out of the lineup. However, Kipnis could be back by the end of this month and make the decision-making a little tougher on the Indians skipper.

On Tuesday, Francona told reporters that Kipnis was starting to work out the oblique and could soon go on a minor league rehab assignment. The all-star was put on the 15-day disabled list, so the injury was not thought to be too serious to begin with. If all goes well, Kip should be back in a couple weeks.

The hope is Aviles will continue to hit well. It is unlikely that he will continue to hit over .400 – there is a reason, after all, that Aviles has never been a regular starter. However, should he continue to hit near .300, Francona will have a very tough time benching Aviles even with a completely healthy squad.

That, of course, is not a bad thing. Having fewer spots than players worth of filling them is a nice problem to have. It means the Tribe has a little bit of depth and can withstand a hurt player or two. That is essential for any team with hopes of reaching the postseason.

Aviles has proven that Francona should get creative in giving his super sub more regular time in the lineup. The fact that Aviles can play so many positions should help.

Once the season starts hitting June and then the dog days of summer, having Aviles and playing him regularly means other starters can rest up. If Carlos Santana continues to hit below .200 or if Nick Swisher is unable to get himself going, there are other options. Struggling starters can be benched for stretches, if needed. It can only help the team succeed.

As a player nearing his mid-30s, it is unlikely that Aviles has reinvented himself, or is going to reinvent himself, as a full-time starter who can hit with a high average over the long-haul. However, he is certainly in a groove right now. With other players struggling at the plate, the Indians should ride Aviles’ hot bat as long as they can. If it continues for a while, he should be in the lineup fill in for someone different each night once Kipnis resumes his role as the Tribe’s second baseman.

Aviles is doing just what you would hope a fill-in player would do. He has allowed the Indians to not miss a beat and enjoy success even without one of their 2013 all-stars. Aviles should remain a super sub, but perhaps sub on a more frequent basis as the season goes along.

Photo: Brian Blanco/Getty Images

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