October 25, 2014

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Indians’ Kipnis looking to start fast this season

Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis smiles during an exhibition baseball game in Goodyear, Ariz. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis smiles during an exhibition baseball game in Goodyear, Ariz. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — At the age of 27, Jason Kipnis may not have arrived, but it sure looks like he’s pulling down the street to his destination.

The second baseman reached a number of goals during a top-shelf 2013 season that included his first appearances in the All-Star Game and postseason.

Still, as the regular season approaches, Kipnis’ mentality is the same.

“It doesn’t change too much,” said Kipnis, who led the Indians in a number of offensive categories, including runs (86), hits (160), RBIs (84) and stolen bases (30). “The team goals take the forefront, obviously. The personal things will happen if you take care of your own business. The All-Star Game is a nice thing to have, but it’s not something you go out and set your mind for.

“The team’s gotta come first. You want to have a healthy year, you want to have a good year. You just want to put your team in position to win games down the stretch.”

Kipnis’ mentality may be the same, but his approach to spring training has changed over the years, as he’s learned what it takes to prepare for the 162-game regular season.

Kipnis has played in eight exhibition games, batting .364 (8-for-22) with a double, triple and two RBIs. He went 0-for-4 in Cleveland’s 7-1 win Tuesday over the Diamondbacks at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

“I’m definitely working a little bit smarter than harder,” Kipnis said. “I just know what I want to do and what I need to do to get ready for the season. I’m not worried about stats at all or anything like that. I’ve hit crappy in springs before. I’ve hit crappy in Aprils before. You just want to be ready for the long grind of the season and just making sure you’re getting there. There’s no complacency here.”

Hitting in the magnified third spot in the order, Kipnis started slowly last year. There were clamors for manager Terry Francona to move him toward the bottom, but he didn’t, and Kipnis rewarded his manager with a magnificent month of June. Kipnis was named American League player of the month, hitting .419 (39-for-93) with four home runs, 25 RBIs and 17 runs — a stretch that put him on the path to a memorable year.

“I do OK in June. May and June, I’m all right,” joked Kipnis. “As long as we get to there. I’ll try to start a little earlier, maybe a month earlier this time.

“It was just a lot of things coming together for me (in June). The confidence was at an all-time high, I was seeing pitches better. Your swing was doing what you want. It was just a mixture of things. I had everything clicking for me in June.”

Though he never envisioned himself batting third in the majors, Kipnis is comfortable there.

“You don’t see too many 5-(foot)-10 three hitters around the league too much,” Kipnis said. “But the way our lineup works out, it kind of fit, because I think guys do such a good job at the other spots. Mike Bourn’s an unreal leadoff hitter, (Asdrubal Cabrera) and (Nick Swisher) can go two and five, Santana’s a great four, Brantley, you can put one through 15 in the lineup. The guy can do anything. It just kind of worked out that way that I was slotted in there.

“The fact that we have those interchangeable parts, that’s not huge pressure. There’s a lot of three-hole hitters down our
lineup, so it doesn’t really matter to me.”

In just one year with Kipnis, Francona discovered he was a player his team couldn’t do without.

“Kip has so many ways of beating you,” Francona said. “He has (bunting) in his game. He can hit the ball out of the ballpark. He uses the whole field. He can run. Man, he has so many different ways he can help you win a game.”

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him @CAwesomeheimer on Twitter.