It will be a homecoming for Jason Kipnis this weekend as the Chicago area native was activated by the Indians from the 10-day disabled list prior to the start of their three-game series against the White Sox.
To make room on the 25-man roster, third baseman Yandy Diaz was optioned to Triple-A Columbus.
Kipnis missed nearly all of spring training while dealing with inflammation in his right shoulder. Both he and the team elected to take the conservative approach to the injury, hoping that early rest and rehab at the start of the season would solve the problem instead of just trying to maintain it over the course of the six-month schedule.
He appeared in seven games on a minor league rehab assignment, getting one hit in six at bats before leaving his third game with the Double-A Akron RubberDucks after being hit by a pitch on his left hand. His final four rehab appearances came with the Triple-A Columbus Clippers, where he was 3-for-14 (.214) with two doubles and one RBI.
The activation of Kipnis comes on the heels of Lonnie Chisenhall rejoining the roster on April 13. Chisenhall has played well back in the lineup, providing a nice spark in a utility outfielder role. Tyler Naquin was optioned to make room for Chisenhall at the time.
Sending out Diaz will undoubtedly come as a disappointment for many fans in his camp.
The 25-year-old utility man is in the precarious position of not having a spot to claim on the Indians roster at the moment. He does not have the versatility that a Michael Martinez has, despite a far higher ceiling and the ability to provide far more offense at the plate. The young Diaz, just as was the case with Naquin this week and Erik Gonzalez in spring training, could benefit more from regular playing time in the lineup than holding onto a spot on the bench while at bats are at a premium with the present starting roster construction.
Diaz used a strong spring camp and the injury to Kipnis to claim the Opening Day third base spot. He appeared in 20 games and put up a .458/.544/.708 line at the plate with four doubles, a triple, two homers, and 15 RBI, but it was known from the jump that the move could be only temporary as Jose Ramirez shifted over to second base to fill in there. Barring Diaz forcing the Indians’ hand somehow, a return to Columbus appeared possible, if not likely.
Diaz worked in 15 games for the Tribe, hitting .236 with a .295 on-base percentage and a .255 slugging percentage. Of his 13 hits, just one was for extra bases and that came as his first Major League hit on Opening Day. He put together a five-game hitting streak and an eleven-game on-base streak, both of which ended Tuesday night in Minnesota, but he had just two RBI to his credit. In four of his last five games, had been lifted for a defensive replacement at the hot corner.
He was hitting just .176 against left-handed pitching and with runners in scoring position struggled like much of the rest of his teammates, hitting just .154 with two singles and two RBI in a limited sample size. He may have been the victim of some unlucky ball placement at the bat, as of his 39 hits in play in his 61 plate appearances, he averaged the 15th-best average exit velocity on struck balls at 92.9 MPH, nearly 5.5 MPH above the MLB average.
It is unknown what role Diaz will play with the Clippers, but a utility role would be the most likely to keep him best prepared for his next call to the show. Giovanny Urshela is already working regularly at third base for the club and Gonzalez has played five different positions in a utility role already. The outfield is crowded as well, with Naquin, Bradley Zimmer, Richie Shaffer, and Jordan Smith on the roster and Daniel Robertson on the 7-day disabled list. Diaz has seen time at third, second, and all three outfield spots during his professional career.
Columbus was set to start a three-game series in Buffalo against the Bisons on Friday night.
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