GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Though the Indians are happy to have acquired a player the caliber of four-time All-Star Edwin Encarnacion, former first baseman Mike Napoli will be missed.
It’s been a common sentiment early in training camp and one shared by second baseman Jason Kipnis, who said he texted Napoli shortly after the news broke that his team had signed Encarnacion.
“There was no secret what it meant,” Kipnis said. “It meant (Napoli) wasn’t coming back. It’s also no secret how much fun we had last year, how much the organization loved him, how much the city loved him, and what he did with that ‘Party at Napoli’s’ stuff for the (Cleveland) Clinic and everything else.
“Not many people make that big of an impact in one year. That’s a credit to him, who he is as a person and as a teammate. He’s going to miss it here. He knows that. We know we’re going to miss him likewise.”
Encarnacion takes Napoli’s place in the middle of Cleveland’s lineup after averaging 38 home runs and 110 RBIs over the past five seasons. He hit 42 homers and drove in a league-leading 127 runs for Toronto last year.
Napoli, who signed a one-year contract with the Rangers, was no slouch last year, reaching career highs in homers (34) and RBIs (101) during his only season with the Indians.
“Keep in mind, Nap was still 34 and 100, so it’s not going to be like we have a completely different look with our lineup,” Kipnis said. “It’s going to be pretty similar to what he did, because Napoli produced a lot for us. But I think what Edwin does is the consistency he has throughout. And I think just he’s one of those guys where you know where he is at all times in that lineup.
“I think when you have that kind of impact hitter, the pitchers start thinking more. They might get off their game a little more. It might be a little easier to run. If they’re more worried about not missing their spots to him, we might get some better jumps on the basepaths.”
The Indians won’t have to wait long to get reacquainted with their former teammate. They open the regular season in Texas on April 3.
“He knows we’ll give him a hug the first day,” Kipnis said. “Us, just like him, as soon as that first pitch is thrown, he’s on the other side now and it’s go time.”
Michael Brantley (right shoulder) tracked pitches Monday during a live batting practice session but did not swing. He has progressed from hitting off a tee to soft toss but will not be ready to play in the exhibition opener Saturday.
“I know Brantley feels good,” manager Terry Francona said. “Every time he feels good I’d much rather him say that than ‘I don’t feel good.’ He was the heart and soul of our (team). He was third in the MVP voting (in 2014). I know he does it quietly, but he had turned himself into one of the best players in the game.”
Outfielder Brandon Guyer has led the AL in the hit-by-pitch category the past two seasons and has shown a tendency for getting plunked his entire career — 66 times over four-plus years in the majors.
“It’s just a combination,” Guyer said. “When I stride, I close myself off. Lefties, and I think most pitchers, try to pitch me in. And then I have a tendency, I just freeze. I don’t move, especially lower half. I think when you combine those three things, that’s the reason why it happens so much.
“I’m not like super proud of it because I feel like if I were to get to that point, that’s when something bad happens. I guess I’m proud that I’ve been hit over 60 times or whatever it is and never missed a game because of it. That’s what I’m proud of, but I’m not proud of getting hit. It’s just a byproduct of things that happen.”