CLEVELAND — Jason Kipnis told reporters a few days ago that he thought he recognized a flaw in his offensive approach while swinging a rolled up magazine in a Kansas City hotel.
The recent results have supported his case.
Kipnis, who has endured a season’s worth of struggles at the plate, stayed hot Thursday afternoon, hitting a game-winning home run to power the Indians past Minnesota 5-3 at Progressive Field.
Kipnis, whose three-run homer with two outs in the sixth broke a 2-2 tie, is 9-for-15 with three doubles, two homers and seven RBIs over his last four games.
He’s had hot stretches this season, but none have translated into consistent production thus far.
“It’d be a lot less stressful for me if this one stuck,” said Kipnis, who is batting .269 with 10 doubles, nine homers and 31 RBIs over his last 59 games. “We’ve had good days in the past. Unfortunately, I’ve taken steps back after them, too.
That’s what happens when I grind like that this year. To piece a couple good days in a row together, the confidence can start to come back and the energy starts to pick up a little bit, especially this late in the year. It can do a lot of wonders.”
“Just from listening to him talk, he’s been wanting to get the feeling of using his hands,” manager Terry Francona said of the two-time all-star, who got Cleveland’s first hit off Twins starter Jake Odorizzi, with a leadoff double in the third inning. “Today was a great example. For one, the wind’s blowing in, but he tucked his hands — brought his hands in a little bit to get the barrel to it. He looks more like himself. Even when there’s a couple times that he doesn’t get hits, he (still) looks more like himself.”
Right-hander Mike Clevinger became Cleveland’s fourth starting pitcher to reach double-digit wins, allowing two unearned runs on four hits and striking out nine over 6 2/3 innings.
Clevinger (10-7) retired 12 of the first 14 batters he faced and didn’t allow a run until surrendering a two-out, two-run homer to Ehire Adrianza in the fifth. An error on third baseman Jose Ramirez on the first batter of the inning made the runs unearned. Clevinger struck out the next two hitters before the homer.
“I thought he battled like crazy,” Francona said of Clevinger. “(He) had a lot of deep counts. The one cost him when he fell behind 2-0 on the home run. But his breaking ball was really good. He actually threw that for more strikes than he did his fastball.”
Francona showed his trust in Clevinger by letting him throw 114 pitches — something that likely wouldn’t have happened earlier this season.
“It means a lot,” Clevinger said. “I think I said this earlier, but it’s a hard man to get his trust. He’s been around awhile and really knows the game, so you’ve really got to earn it here. Especially with the staff that’s before me, it’s pretty clear why you have to earn it.”
“He’s definitely earned it,” Kipnis said of Clevinger. “I don’t think he always gets the recognition with the staff that we have. You hear more about the (Corey) Kluber, the (Trevor) Bauers and (Carlos) Carrascos, and (Shane) Bieber’s the new guy that’s talked about a little bit and Clev’s just kinda hanging around. But this guy goes out and competes every fifth day. He’s put up a lot of good starts for us and I think every time we have him on the mound we’re pretty confident as a team.”
Clevinger has been solid all year, but he’s gotten better as the season has worn on.
“I feel like the mechanical adjustments we made a month and a half ago are starting to pay huge dividends now,” he said. “I think everything is kind of still building. I think it is trending upward. I think my average velocity is trending upward. Body feels good. Trying to always keep the mechanics going.”
A day after allowing the game-winning run in a 4-3 loss, struggling right-hander Cody Allen was back on the mound, getting the final two outs in the eighth inning after walking the first batter he faced.
“I think that’s what he needs. He needs to keep getting out there and keep throwing,” Clevinger said. “I think the worst thing we can do is just shy away from him, especially with what he know he can do, especially when he gets locked in. Everyone goes through a funk, everyone goes through weird things, and that’s no different with him. That’s just weird to him because of how consistent he’s been the past however many years. That’s why it’s so eye-opening to everybody.
He’s shown he’s going to get out of it. He’s not done with baseball by any means. It’s just a little funk. It’s just weird to see it out of someone who has stayed so consistent as he has.”
The Indians took the rubber match of the three-game series, boosting their lead to 14 games in the Central Division. Cleveland’s magic number is 16.