CLEVELAND -- When he made the move to center field at the end of last year, Jason Kipnis was pretty much the Indians’ only option. This time around, he has to be their best.
After Cleveland acquired 2015 AL MVP Josh Donaldson, team president Chris Antonetti and manager Terry Francona told Kipnis he would have to win a competition against rookie Greg Allen to ensure himself of a regular spot in the lineup.
“They said I’ve got to prove that I’m the best option out there, which is nothing new,” said Kipnis, a two-time all-star who was batting only .226 with 14 home runs and 57 RBIs through Monday. “I think everybody should be proving every day at every position that they’re the best out there, otherwise they shouldn’t be there. I don’t have time to be frustrated. I have a job to do and a position to win. It’s tough because you’re trying to switch positions this late in the year and also work on fixing what’s going on at the plate. It’s a lot of things. But it’s what we signed up for and it’s what we’re being paid to do.
“Everyone knows what kind of player Donaldson can be. If he comes in healthy, then I’m excited. I understand their position that they’ve got to put the best team out there to win this thing. Anytime somebody comes to you and says ‘hey, your playing time is about to diminish,’ you’re obviously not going to be jumping for joy. As a professional, I’m going to handle it. I’m going to go out there wherever they need me.”
Francona had been reluctant to move third baseman Jose Ramirez to second and Kipnis to the outfield, but that changed with the acquisition of Donaldson.
“The one thing I never want to do is not be honest with everybody,” he said. “I think we feel like we’re a better team when Kip’s playing well. So we kinda explained things to Kip, what the possibilities could be, and he said he wanted it to be center. But I told him, I said, ‘You have to be our best option out there. And I told Greg the same thing.
“It’s a little unsettling. I’ve known Kip for six years now. It’s been a guy that we’ve depended on. Now, all of a sudden you’re having a conversation with him that’s probably not exactly what he wants to hear, so it’s not the funnest thing in the world. But I think the best way to start those is by being honest.”
It comes at an inopportune time for Kipnis, who has swung the bat better as of late, entering Tuesday hitting .385 (10-for-26) with three home runs and eight RBIs over his last eight games.
“They just came out a week ago saying I was going to stay at second,” Kipnis said. “And then this happens and then I get it going a little bit. Does it take a little wind out of my sails? It did, a little bit, but not enough to get me to stop working, stop competing. I’ve got teammates that are looking for me to step up as well. And it’s my own career. I have a lot of pride in it. That’s why I was a little frustrated and hurt by it. But that’s why I’m still going to be meeting the challenge every time out. Nothing else to do except to go try to play whatever position they tell me to go to.”
Unlike last year, when Kipnis was forced to switch to center due to multiple injuries in the outfield, he won’t be making the move for the first time in his career.
“Having some kind of starting point to fall back on now is nice,” said Kipnis, who was Cleveland’s starter in center in each of the five games of the ALDS against the Yankees. “We’re not just starting from eight years scratch or something like that. Do I love it? No. But I don’t have to love it. I’ve got a job to do. It’s OK as long as all of our goals are the same and that’s to win a World Series for this city and this organization. You’re not really going to hear too many problems from me.”
Donaldson began a rehab assignment with Triple-A Columbus on Monday, going 1-for-2 with a grand slam and a walk in an 8-1 win over Toledo.
He worked out with the Indians at Progressive Field prior to Tuesday night’s game and is expected to join Double-A Akron tonight for its first-round postseason series against Altoona.
The earliest Donaldson can be activated from the injured list is Tuesday in Tampa Bay.
Left-hander Andrew Miller (left shoulder bursitis) has been playing catch and is expected to throw his first bullpen session since being placed on the DL, Thursday in Toronto.
Miller, who is in the midst of his third stint on the DL and has made only 27 appearances this year, is eligible to leave the injured list Thursday, but is not expected to be activated.
Cleveland added two players to its expanded roster, selecting the contracts of outfielder Brandon Barnes and infielder Adam Rosales from Columbus.
Rosales, 35, hit .239 with 18 homers and 61 RBIs in 114 games. He’s a veteran of 10 MLB seasons with Cincinnati, Oakland, Texas, San Diego and Arizona.
Barnes, 32, was a midseason and postseason International League all-star, batting .273 with 14 homers, 39 doubles (led IL) and 81 RBIs (second) in 132 games.
Michael Brantley got the night off and Ramirez is expected to sit in the series finale against KC today. ... The Indians rotation’s 4.32 strikeout/walk ratio led MLB and stood as the best in franchise history through Monday. The starting staff’s 903 strikeouts through Monday ranked second in the majors behind Houston’s 959. ... Brad Hand entered Tuesday with a 1.53 ERA and seven saves in 17 appearances since joining the Indians. The save total is the most by a Cleveland left-hander since Derek Lilliquist had 10 in 1993. ... Tuesday was the 27th anniversary of Hall of Famer Jim Thome’s MLB debut in Minnesota. Wearing No. 59 for the only time in his career, Thome went 2-for-4 with an RBI in an 8-4 victory. ... Today, 1:10, STO; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM. Kluber (17-7, 2.80) vs. Keller (7-5, 3.26).
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