Kipnis Revival Key for Getting Tribe Offense on Track

It wasn’t all that long ago that Jason Kipnis was a young All-Star, helping lead his team to the postseason, with a bright future. It was even a less length of time since Kipnis was one of the bigger disappointments on the team.

In 2013 the Cleveland Indians second baseman earned his first All-Star nod. Fresh off the heals of enjoying a solid 2012 campaign, his first full year in the big leagues, Kipnis had an even bigger 2013. He batted .284, with 17 home runs and 84 RBI, while swiping 30 bases. He was a main reason the Tribe earned an American League Wild Card berth.

In 2013, Kipnis was only 26. He had burst onto the Major League Baseball scene in a big way. Cleveland’s 2009 second round pick was going to fulfill his promise as a guy who could 20-plus bombs, drive in 90-plus runs and steal 30-plus bases a season.

Then, 2014 happened. Kipnis, suffered an oblique injury and missed nearly a month of the season. he never seemed quite right at the plate, looking uncomfortable hitting, for much of the season. Last year, Kipnis’ numbers dropped to six long balls, 41 RBI, 22 steals and a .240 average in 129 games. The oblique injury seemed to sap him of his power and ability to really drive the ball.

To say the Indians offense suffered without Kipnis being Kipnis in 2014 would be an understatement. The offense often stagnated after Michael Brantley and Yan Gomes. Kipnis, the do-everything guy, was not doing much.

Many people predicted a bounceback season for a healthy Kipnis this year. However, much of April looked a lot like last year’s down season and the thought was that maybe Kipnis had peaked young and may never continue the career arc he seemed to be on.

Then on April 26, things changed. Heading into action that day, Cleveland’s regular No. 2 or 3 hitter was a meager .239 batting clip, with 0 homers and seven RBI. Cleveland’s leadoff hitter, Michael Bourn, was struggling even more. Indians manager Terry Francona decided to shake things up. On the 26th, Francona moved Bourn out of the leadoff spot and into the nine-hole of the batting order. the new No. 1 man? That’s right … Kipnis.

Ever since moving up a spot or two in the batting order, Kipnis has been more like his old self. He has resembled the 2013 guy whom the Indians and their fans came to think of as a leader on the team and one of club’s cornerstones. Over his nine games as the leadoff hitter, heading into Thursday evening’s action, Kip was hitting a blistering .353 with three home runs and seven RBI. He appears healthy at the plate and the power has returned in a big way. He is again becoming an offensive leader on the team. His averaged has jumped up to .272 on the year.

Kipnis returning to form is a much-needed shot in the arm for a ball club that has had very little go right on offense this year. Other than Brantley, no regular on the team has hit well with any consistency. Utility man Ryan Raburn has hit well in a reserve role. Other key players have either been hurt – Gomes and Nick Swisher – or struggling to hit to their potential – Bourn, Carlos Santana and Lonnie Chisenhall. Kipnis was in that latter category until the lineup change.

It’s hard to say just how the change in the lineup awoke the once slumbering bat of the 28-year-old. Even Kipnis, himself, may not have an answer. When asked by reporters about the hot stretch after Sunday’s game against Toronto, Kipnis was very vague as to what has sparked his return to form.

The reality is, it doesn’t really matter why Kipnis is stroking the ball like it is 2013 again. What is important is that he continues to do so.

There is really little reason to doubt Kipnis is back. Kipnis was a great hitter in the minor leagues and showed so much promise at the plate in in the Majors from 2011-2013. It is very plausible that injuries were the number one factor in his decline a season ago. A rough start to this season was likely Kipnis simply regaining his form at the plate and getting used to hitting pain-free again. He may have had readjustments to make after surely getting into bad habits a season ago.

Every player, even the best ones, go through slumps. Kipnis has emerged from his to be the hitter most expect him to be.

Kipnis coming back to his old self is not the complete cure-all for this Tribe offense. The team still needs a couple guys beyond Kipnis and Brantley to get hot if it is going to really get on a role and get into contention this summer. However, Kipnis re-emerging may be one of the most important keys to reviving the offense. The offense will not truly take off without KIpnis, so getting him back on track is a key step toward getting the Indians back to where they want to be.

There are certainly other guys who need to follow suit, but for now, let’s enjoy the revival of Cleveland’s 2013 all-star second baseman to his old form. Let’s also hope that hitting leadoff means not only starting a game off well, but also starting off a trend of a team full of guys bouncing back to form.

Photo: Tony Dejak/Associated Press

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