KANSAS CITY – Jason Kipnis kept waiting for the pain. He wasn’t quite sure where it would start, but the ankle, knee, hip or leg were high on his list.
But it didn’t happen. He had torn a big divot out of center field with his knee while making an aborted sliding catch of Salvador Perez’s line drive to center field in the fourth inning Friday night at Kauffman Stadium.
“As soon as I rolled over, you’re waiting for this big throb that comes after if it’s a serious injury,” said Kipnis after the Indians beat the Royals, 14-6, “and it never came. As soon as I rolled over I was able to stand on it. It was pretty calming, and I just kept moving around while I was still in the game.”
Kipnis survived the fourth inning and came back for the fifth. As soon as he did, Kansas City’s Hunter Dozier sent a carbon copy of Perez’s ball to center. This time Kipnis greased the landing – in other words he didn’t threaten dislocation to any major body parts – and made a nice sliding catch.
He did chew up center field again, but with only two games left in the regular season, there will be plenty of time for it to heal.
“I made a little bit of an adjustment on the second divot,” said Kipnis, tongue in cheek. “I like to have the same kind of reaction each time and to be able to come in on it right away. I was proud of that.”
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It’s surprising that there haven’t been more plays like this for Kipnis as he once again makes the late-season move from second base to center field with Houston and the ALDS at the Indians’ doorstep.
“Other than he has to replace his divot, he looks more and more comfortable out there,” said manager Terry Francona. “He got behind one ball, came in on two balls. He looks pretty good.”
The same could be said for the way Kipnis is swinging the bat. He gave the Indians a 1-0 lead with a leadoff homer in the third. He has 18 homers and 75 RBI for the season. Remember when fans were screaming to bench or trade Kipnis?
The 18 homers are the second most he’s hit in a season and his 75 RBI match his career average for a 162-game season, according to baseball-reference.com. He’s still hitting only .231 (121-for-545), but over his last 81 games Kipnis is hitting .262 with 14 homers and 50 RBI.
“I’m very happy about that,” said Kipnis, when asked about his 18th homer. “It’s one of those years where I just don’t have a bunch of those extra singles to go along with the rest of the hits. … That’s what it comes down to.
“I do make them count, it seems, like when I do hit the ball. If that’s the route we’re taking this year than so be it. For myself and for my team, I’d like to add a little bit more than that, but we all know October is where it really counts. A bunch of hits there and people will forget my (average) for the rest of the year. That would be nice.”
The Indians open the best-of-five ALDS against the Astros on Friday at Minute Maid Park.
Speaking of singles, Kipnis contributed just that in the Indians’ 10-run seventh inning that turned a 1-0 game into a 14-6 landslide. It was the shortest hit of the game, but Francona called it the most important.
Josh Donaldson opened the inning with a double. Yonder Alonso singled to right to make it 2-0. Melky Cabrera added the third straight hit of the inning to put runners on first and second. Lefty Tim Hill relieved starter Ian Kennedy to face Kipnis. Instead of swinging away, Kipnis bunted down the first baseline and beat the throw for a hit to load the bases.
Roberto Perez followed with an RBI single. Two more runs scored on Francisco Lindor’s bouncer to first that Ryan O’Hearn threw past catcher Cam Gallagher for an error. An RBI single by Edwin Encarnacion and Donaldson’s grand slam competed the 10-run inning.
“I thought it all kind of started with Kip laying the bunt down,” said Francona. “Little things turn into big things. When you play the game right, you get rewarded for it.”
Mike Clevinger sent 6 2/3 innings to win his 13th game and reach 200 innings for the season. Clevinger and Kluber are just the fourth duo of Tribe pitchers to record 200 innings and 200 strikeouts in the same season.
“He’s taken the step forward,” said Kipnis, when asked about Clevinger. “Any time you see a starting pitcher tally 200 innings and 200 strikes (Clevinger has 200 innings and 207 strikeouts), that’s a dependable arm. That’s a guy who takes the ball every fifth day and gives you a quality start. …He’s been one of the steadier forces throughout the entire season and he’s done a fantastic job.”