Cleveland (92.3 the Fan) – Terry Francona says he is not a fan of shaking up the lineup for the sake of shaking it up. Well, consider the Indians-9 stirred at the very least.
After a rough road trip offensively in which the Tribe saved face with a record of 4-5, the team returned home, only to struggle at the dish again. They posted just one run on six hits over two games, coupled with another injury in the outfield to Brandon Guyer.
A change was needed and a change was made, when Jason Kipnis and Carlos Santana each switched spots in the lineup, with the second baseman taking their first baseman’s lead-off role.
Both players needed something to get them going, and the respective players have had their best success over their careers in the roles they took on Sunday.
The success continued in the series finale as Kipnis began the game with a bang, his seventh career lead-off home run. The lefty finished the game 4-for-5 with two home runs, and tying a career-high four RBI for the eighth time in his career, all with his mother in attendance for Mother’s Day.
The two-time All-Star said not much changes with the move, but his manager has a special touch.
“I might get a first-pitch fastball of the game, that might be the only one I can count on, then the rest is up in the air from there,” Kipnis laughed. “I think he knows, has a feel for when I’m coming around with my swing, like I do.”
That turnaround comes after weeks of struggles at the plate as the lefty came into the game with a .155 batting average. Kipnis had very few at-bats in Spring Training before a shoulder sprain, and just 22 more in his rehab starts.
“I’d have good at-bats and not finish them off the way I wanted to, I’d have poor at-bats,” he added. “I had a little place where I was so worried about having good swings on the ball that I forgot to make sure they were strikes. I think today was one of those days where it all culminated and I was just locked in, seeing the ball up and over the plate.
Santana got in on the action as well, blasting his fourth home run of the year in the 3rd inning, starting a four-run frame. The switch-hitter almost got a second extra-base hit before Byron Buxton’s amazing play in centerfield.
“I’m happy every day. If I’m in the lineup, it doesn’t matter for me,” Santana said. “A couple years ago, Kipnis, he was hitting well in leadoff. He did a good job. I’m happy today. Kipnis, he did a good job. He helped the team win.”
Over 895 plate appearances hitting fifth, Santana has split .281/.371/.493, and that is without being flanked by hitters the caliber of Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Ramirez. In 558 plate appearances from the leadoff spot, he splits .250/.369/.466.
As for Kipnis, he has been best in his career in the leadoff spot, splitting .281/.355/.424.
The skipper said his second baseman brought a needed aspect to the table.
“Sometimes when guys get pushed back, I think there’s a little bit of a letdown,” Francona said. “I think moving up to the leadoff spot, he knows how important that is. Not that nobody is not, but we had a day game, I just thought his energy was really good. I think he was a little bit excited. It’s not a bad thing.”