CLEVELAND — For the first time all season, Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis was not on the field — getting a scheduled day off in the series finale with Cincinnati on Wednesday night.
“We are all Kipnisses, but we do have to take care of him,” manager Manny Acta said of Kipnis, who was hitting .276 with 11 home runs and 41 RBIs, playing in all of Cleveland’s 67 games through Tuesday. “He knew (the day off) was coming. It’s something we had planned a long time ago with the medical staff. This was the perfect situation for us to get him back-to-back days off (with an off day today). He was banged up a little bit on the road and all that.”
Kipnis leads the Indians in nearly every offensive category, but it’s been the defense from the former outfielder that has impressed his manager the most.
“I think he’s been outstanding,” Acta said. “It’s been the biggest surprise, how much progress the guy has made over a year period. His range is tremendous. He hangs in there tough turning the double play.
“We knew that (first baseman Casey) Kotchman, and (shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera) and (third baseman) Jack (Hannahan) were going to catch the ball. He was just the one, kind of the question mark, and he’s been as good as anybody. I’m impressed.”
Kipnis ranked among the American League leaders in a number of offensive departments through Tuesday, and Acta believes he is worthy of All-Star recognition.
“Unfortunately we have some stud second basemen in the American League with (Texas’ Ian) Kinsler, (Boston’s Dustin) Pedroia and (New York’s Robinson) Cano. It’s a tough crowd,” Acta said. “But without a doubt, he’s an All-Star. He has played like one. His numbers indicate that and we’d love to see him there.”
Kipnis was fourth, trailing all three players in the latest All-Star voting results.
Acta revealed some positive news where injured designated hitter Travis Hafner (right knee) is concerned.
“We’re anticipating that he’s going to be probably ahead of schedule, but we don’t have any timetable yet for any rehab or games,” he said.
Hafner was expected to miss 4-6 weeks after undergoing arthroscopic surgery May 31. He took batting practice Tuesday and has begun running in the outfield before games.
Acta said Hafner would require a minor league rehab assignment before returning to the team.
Outside of closer Chris Perez and setup men Vinnie Pestano and Joe Smith, Cleveland’s relief corps has struggled — namely left-hander Tony Sipp, who entered Wednesday with a 6.95 ERA in 27 appearances.
“The biggest issue we’ve had this year is that Raffy (Perez) went down (with an injury) and Tony has struggled,” Acta said. “We’ve had to throw some guys out there to try and take those spots and it’s not easy. We need Tony to turn it around, because then it’s going to give us more than three or four guys back there that we can utilize.”
Sipp’s issues have been against right-handers — .357 batting average — leaving the once-reliable reliever as a situational lefty.
“The difference has been that last year he could go through three guys, regardless, left-right-left. Right now, we have to try to match him up the best way possible until he gets out of his rut.”
The Indians are off today before continuing interleague play with a three-game series in Houston that begins Friday night at 8:05.
Ubaldo Jimenez (6-5, 5.00 ERA) opens the set for Cleveland, while the Astros counter with RHP Lucas Harrell (6-5, 5.07). Jeanmar Gomez (4-6, 4.95) will start for the Indians on Saturday (4:05 p.m.) against LHP Dallas Keuchel (0-0, 1.80).
Derek Lowe (7-5, 4.30) goes for Cleveland in the series finale Sunday (2:05 p.m.), opposing LHP J.A. Happ (5-7, 5.15).
Tuesday’s walk-off hero Cabrera entered Wednesday batting an AL-high .380 (35-for-93) with runners in scoring position. The total ranked fourth in the majors.
** Cleveland’s first-round draft pick, outfielder Tyler Naquin, made his professional debut Wednesday for Class A Mahoning Valley.
** Browns quarterback Brandon Weeden, a former minor league pitcher in the Yankees’ organization, threw out the ceremonial first pitch. A number of Browns rookies took in the game as guests of the Indians.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.