October 21, 2014

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Indians Notes: Manager Terry Francona not sweating Jason Kipnis’ struggles

Cleveland Indians' Jason Kipnis hits a single off Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura in the seventh inning Friday in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Cleveland Indians’ Jason Kipnis hits a single off Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Yordano Ventura in the seventh inning Friday in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

CLEVELAND — All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis has struggled at the plate for much of the season. Manager Terry Francona has hardly noticed.

“I don’t really look at Kip’s numbers very much because he’s going to play and he’s going to help us win,” Francona said of Kipnis, who is batting .253 with three home runs and 23 RBIs in 60 games. “Regardless of what his batting average is, he’s one of our mainstays and he competes.”

A strained left oblique sidelined Kipnis for close to a month and he’s been slow to find his groove since returning. He entered Saturday batting just .200 (13-for-65) with runners in scoring position.

“I think it’s different with everybody,” Francona said. “Sometimes you see a guy get hot right away and it’s hard to figure. Sometimes it takes a while. I think Kip has been in that mode, where there’s been some inconsistencies. He’s fighting to feel like he wants to feel, and I think missing time doesn’t help that.”

Kipnis has shown signs of life over his last nine games through Friday, batting .289 (11-for-38), with five multihit games over his last nine. He made it six in his last 10 games with a pair of hits Saturday night.

“I think when you see Kip hit the ball to center and to left-center with authority, that’s when he’s getting locked in,” Francona said.

Kipnis’ first hit Saturday was an RBI double to left in the third inning.

Masty’s mess
Despite an inconsistent effort from ace Justin Masterson, Francona is keeping the faith in the right-hander. Masterson has a 5.16 ERA over 18 starts, while walking a team-high 53 batters over 96 innings.

“I would say command is probably the biggest thing,” Francona said of Masterson’s issues. “I’m sure confidence plays a part in that. Maybe at the end of the year his numbers will be a little bit elevated because of the first couple months, but that doesn’t mean he can’t impact us tremendously. That’s our goal, to keep fighting to get there.

“Masty’s done it before, and I think we all believe he’s going to do it again.”

Minor details

  • Double-A Akron’s Tyler Naquin entered Saturday leading Indians minor leaguers with a .313 batting average over 76 games. Cleveland’s first-round draft pick (15th overall) in 2012 had four homers and 30 RBIs through Friday.
  • Triple-A Columbus’ Giovanny Urshela and Class A Lake County’s Eric Haase entered Saturday leading Cleveland’s system with 13 homers apiece. Urshela, a non-drafted
  • free-agent acquisition in 2008, was tops with 58 RBIs in 56 games.
  • Advanced Class A Carolina’s Ryan Merritt entered Saturday tops with nine wins and a 1.65 ERA in 15 starts. The left-hander, a 16th-round draft pick in 2011, struck out 74 batters in 98⅓ innings through Friday.

Roundin’ third

  • The Indians entered Saturday no longer ranked last in the majors in attendance. Tampa Bay’s average attendance of 17,030, was below Cleveland’s 17,417 average through Friday.
  • Saturday was the 67th anniversary of Larry Doby’s first appearance with the Indians in 1947. It was the first time an African-American player appeared in the American League.
  • Brianna Alomar, the 13-year-old daughter of first base coach Sandy Alomar, performed the national anthem.

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

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