October 23, 2014

Medina
Partly sunny
57°F

Indians: Jason Kipnis likes new season, teammates

GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Everything is new again, even 42-year-old Jason Giambi.

Kipnis

That’s the way Jason Kipnis sees it.

Kipnis, the Indians’ second baseman, views spring training as a fresh start, unconnected to the past. The future is always bright in training camp, no matter how many times a team has stumbled when the schedule turns real in April.

But this time, there might be a good reason to forget the Tribe’s pile of 94 losses in 2012. The clubhouse at the Goodyear complex is dotted with players who were not a part of last season, at least not with the Indians.

“There’s more of a purpose in this camp,” Kipnis said. “The guys really believe in the players in this locker room and the potential this team has.”

Kipnis concedes that even if General Manager Chris Antonetti had not acquired Nick Swisher, Drew Stubbs, Mark Reynolds, Brett Myers, Michael Bourn, Mike Aviles and Giambi in the offseason, there would be optimism in the clubhouse.

“It could be the same guys,” Kipnis said. “But we’d be going into a new year. Everything would be 0-0. But bringing in new guys, there’s more excitement about having a great season. What’s not to be excited about?

“It’s always fun to play with different veterans, guys who have played with the Yankees, had different careers, like Giambi, who has done all this stuff.”

All this stuff means getting to the postseason.

Kipnis’ personal goal in 2013?

“The playoffs,” he said. “That’s what every player wants to do. It would be an awesome experience, seeing how far we could go.”

Kipnis is almost a new player himself. Last year was his first full season in the big leagues. The Tribe’s deep thinkers pegged him as a hitter in the minor leagues, but they wondered how he would adapt to second base after playing the outfield until 2010.

Here’s an example of how far Kipnis has progressed as an infield defender: In his rookie season of 2011, he made six errors and handled 100 assists in 305 innings. Last year, he handled 440 assists, played 1,293⅓ innings and committed six errors.

So erase defense as a concern.

At the plate, Kipnis put up respectable numbers for a novice: a .257 batting average with 14 home runs and 76 RBIs, while also stealing 31 bases in 38 attempts.

As he said, “If you told me what my numbers would be at the end of the year I’d be happy, but …”

His statistics as a run producer fell off significantly in the second half of the season. From July 1 through the end of the schedule, Kipnis hit three home runs and had 30 RBIs.

The fact the Tribe’s normal lineup featured nine hitters who could bat from the left side (including two switch hitters) didn’t help Kipnis, a lefty. Theoretically, 25 percent of major league pitchers throw from the left side, but 35 percent of Kipnis’ at-bats came against lefties, as opposing teams tried to take advantage of the tilt in the Indians’ batting order.

Kipnis batted .280 with 12 homers and 52 RBIs in 382 at-bats against right-handers. Against left-handers he batted .215 with two homers and 24 RBIs in 209 at-bats.

With more left-right balance in this year’s lineup, Kipnis should see more right-handers. Moreover, he has an additional year of experience, which should help him against lefties.

One of the overriding themes of this training camp is the impact made by new manager Terry Francona.

“One of the things I really like is having manager I love to play for,” Kipnis said. “Tito is one of those managers who goes out of his way to have a relationship with his players. And as much as he wants you to fight for him, he’s going to fight for you.”

Soon after Francona got the job last fall, he began making contact with players. Kipnis was on his list.

“He called me out of the blue for no other reason than to start a relationship,” he said. “I thought that was great.”

Francona has long had a reputation as a players’ manager, but he also expects his players to live up to certain standards.

“He doesn’t have a lot of rules,” Kipnis said. “But he wants players to be accountable for themselves. He only has three things, and he’s lenient about some other stuff. He wants you to be on time, play the game the right way and respect all your teammates and the game.”

Nothing new about those standards of conduct, but like yet another spring training, the voice is new.