CLEVELAND — Through 11 starts in center field, the reviews have been mostly positive for former second baseman Jason Kipnis, who is learning a new position on the run in preparation to play there on the biggest stage of all when the postseason begins Thursday.
Kipnis hasn’t seen a whole lot of action in center, but there have been no glaring mishaps either.
“I’m finally feeling healthy for the first time in a long time that I can remember,” said Kipnis, who missed the first two weeks of the season with a shoulder injury and nearly two months during separate stints on the disabled list with a right hamstring strain. “Just the full body, the mind, everything is going well right now and getting back to just playing baseball. That’s where we want to be right now, especially going into October.
“The swing is coming along. Center field is coming along. I’m happy with the steps we’re taking.”
With injuries contributing, Kipnis has endured season-long offensive struggles, but he’s picking up the pace at the plate as of late, going 9-for-28 (.321) with three doubles, a home run, five RBIs and five runs over his last nine games.
“Every time he seems like he gets more at-bats, I think he looks like he’s using them to his advantage because he’s getting back to where he’s bringing his hands inside him on the balls in,” manager Terry Francona said. “He looks pretty good.”
Kipnis appears to be past the hamstring issue, running at full speed and even stealing a base Friday.
“For him to get back on the field a second time, (the trainers) worked him pretty hard,” Francona said. “Game situations where you don’t know what direction you’re going, it is a big step. But I think he’s answered everything. I think he’s doing fine.
“The more at-bats he gets the better he looks in the box. Every time he plays center field, there’s going to be more comfort just because he hasn’t been out there a whole lot. But I’m not really more concerned with him than other things on our team. He might make a mistake out there. If he does, I’ll take the blame for that. I think he’s handled himself in center just fine.”
Ace Corey Kluber starting Game 1 of the ALDS on Thursday on his normal rest appears like a foregone conclusion, but Francona said the Indians are considering different options.
“We’re trying some scenarios,” he said. “I think flexibility is the word I would use. Like whoever starts Game 1 could go to the bullpen later in the series, whoever is supposed to go later ... you never know how it’s going to work, so we just want to make sure we have everything covered.
“We’re not announcing anything right now. When I think it’s the right time, we’ll walk through the entire thing and not only announce it and tell you why we wanted to do it this way and things like that.”
Left-hander Tyler Olson ended the regular season without allowing a run over 30 appearances covering 20 innings. It was the longest scoreless streak by a major league pitcher this year.
Olson, who rescued the Indians as the lone lefty in the bullpen when Boone Logan and Andrew Miller went down with injuries, limited left-handed hitters to a .162 batting average (6-for-37).
“We’ve talked about it many times that when somebody goes down, you never want to see somebody get hurt,” Francona said. “But when Boone went down, it opened an opportunity for Olson. And man did he take it and run with it. The first handful of games, he kind of pitched whenever. And then as he earned trust, he started pitching sixth, seventh, eighth inning on and he did a heck of a job. I hope his first run isn’t until next year.”
Olson credited Francona with much of his success.
“I think a lot of it goes to the way that I was used, the way Tito put me into situations and trusting that I can go out there and get the job done,” said Olson, who was claimed off waivers from the Royals last year. “A lot of it goes to our bullpen as well. They were in spots where I got picked up by them as well. You know, it’s pretty cool.”
Hail to the champ
While praising his rookie starting pitcher Carson Fulmer for a job well done after a 2-1 victory Saturday night, White Sox manager Rick Renteria tipped his cap to the Indians as well.
“He showed a lot of poise on the mound and executed his pitches against potentially the World Series champions,” Renteria said.
Renteria’s White Sox saw the best of Cleveland this year, losing 13 of 19 meetings, including nine of 11 at Progressive Field.
- A crowd of 30,036 fans gave the Indians a season attendance total of 2,048,148 over 81 dates — an increase of 456,471 from 2016.
- After starting slowly at Progressive Field, the Indians finished the regular season with the second-best home record (49-32) in the AL, winning 17 of their last 20 games.
- The Indians posted a 50-26 record within the Central Division and a 52-34 mark outside, which included a 24-8 record against AL West opponents. The win total in the Central is the most since the inception of the division in 1994.
- In preparation for Game 1 of the ALDS, the Indians will hold an optional workout today at Progressive Field and mandatory ones Tuesday and Wednesday.