CLEVELAND -- Following the trade of Orlando Cabrera to the Giants, second base belongs to rookie Jason Kipnis.
The Indians dealt Cabrera to San Francisco in exchange for Minor League outfielder Thomas Neal after Saturday's 5-2 win against the Royals. Cabrera wasn't thrilled in mid-June when the Indians called up Cord Phelps to share second base duties. The veteran received even less playing time when Kipnis was added to the big league roster.
"I thought he handled it very well. He was very professional about it," Tribe manager Manny Acta said. "He had a lot to do with the success we had here in the first couple of months of the season. He really helped Asdrubal [Cabrera] and helped a lot of the young kids. But the main thing was for us to get Kipnis the playing time that we think he deserves."
The Indians are developing their top prospects on the fly as they contend for the top spot in the American League Central. Kipnis and third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall, in particular, have been thrown into the fire. To continue their progress, Acta said, the youngsters must play on a daily basis.
"[Cabrera] understood the situation," Acta said. "Anybody that is as competitive as he is wants to play every day, but we have to do what we have to do and in our case, we wanted Kipnis to play."
In his first game as the everyday second baseman, Kipnis connected for his first Major League home run, a solo shot to right field off Royals starter Danny Duffy in the fifth inning of the Indians' 5-3 loss on Sunday.
"In our scouting report, he's known as being kind of effectively wild and sometimes the fastball will run right over the plate," Kipnis said. "That's kind of what I was hoping for, and I got lucky enough to put a good swing on it."
In 91 games with the Indians, Cabrera batted .244 with four homers and 38 RBIs. He joins a Giants squad that sits atop the National League West. If they hang on, Cabrera would qualify for the postseason for the fifth consecutive season -- each with a different team. That winning mentality rubbed off in the Indians' clubhouse.
"He brought in that winning attitude," Acta said. "He pushed guys to be the best they could be on an everyday basis. That's something that we'll appreciate."
LaPorta redeems himself with winning blast
CLEVELAND -- For an example of how redemption can vanquish past struggles, look no further than Matt LaPorta.
With the Indians trailing the Angels, 2-1, in the ninth inning on Tuesday, LaPorta entered the batter's box with the bases loaded and none out. All the first baseman needed to do was hit the ball to the outfield to, at worst, record a game-tying sacrifice fly.
Instead, LaPorta beat a Jordan Walden fastball into the ground, resulting in a double play that left a pair of runners on with two out. Jason Kipnis then struck out to end the contest, the Indians' golden opportunity for a comeback having fizzled.
LaPorta said he became the focus of Tribe fans' frustration after the loss.
"It happens. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose," LaPorta said. "The guy a couple nights ago throws 99 mph. It's not the easiest at-bat. You can't let one day affect how you play the rest of the year. You can't be scared."
Baseball has a funny way of granting players second chances. LaPorta capitalized on his.
With two out in the ninth inning on Saturday, LaPorta barely cleared the left-field wall with a three-run, walk-off homer that beat the Royals, 5-2.
"That's the way I guess this game goes," LaPorta said. "You have to keep going out there and try to contribute."
LaPorta said he deleted his Twitter account after receiving backlash from angry fans. He said eight out of every 10 tweets directed his way were cordial, but others were so vicious he decided to cut ties with the social media avenue. Even after an outpouring of support following his heroics on Saturday, LaPorta said he has no intentions of restoring his account.
"People have their opinions," LaPorta said. "They feel strongly about their emotions about the game."
Manager Manny Acta said fan reaction is just a part of the game, and he's glad LaPorta got the last laugh.
"We expect a lot out of this guy," Acta said. "He had a rough night a couple of nights ago when he couldn't drive in that run. I'm pretty sure that whoever was booing three nights ago was cheering him on today."
LaPorta went 0-for-3 as the designated hitter in Sunday's 5-3 loss in the series finale.
Donald makes long road back to Cleveland
CLEVELAND -- Timing has been everything for Jason Donald this season.
The Indians infielder suffered a fractured left middle finger at the worst possible time in Spring Training, when he was fighting for the starting third base job. During a Minor League rehab stint, Donald injured his left groin and missed a handful of games. Then, he sprained the MCL in his right knee in mid-May while playing at Triple-A Columbus.
The series of injuries has stalled his return to the big leagues, but he finally made his arrival Sunday after the Indians traded second baseman Orlando Cabrera to the Giants for Minor League outfielder Thomas Neal. Donald is back, and his timing couldn't be better.
"I'm eager to get back anyway," Donald said, "but when you see what's going on and the team's in the thick of things, you want to be a part of it."
Donald struck out twice and walked in the Indians' 5-3 loss to the Royals on Sunday in his season debut. He was lifted for pinch-hitter Travis Hafner in the eighth inning. Hafner delivered an RBI groundout.
A versatile infielder, Donald will back up Jason Kipnis at second and Lonnie Chisenhall at third, and even spell shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera on the rare occasion the All-Star takes a day off.
"He does everything you ask him to do and prepares himself for it," manager Manny Acta said. "Hopefully we got him at the right time. He was playing well down there in Triple-A and he can help us out here."
In 47 games for the Clippers, Donald hit .310 with four homers and 15 RBIs. Last season with the Tribe, his first in the Majors, he batted .253 in 88 games.
It's been a long journey back for the 26-year-old, but he's appreciative of the chance to help the Indians battle for American League Central supremacy.
"It's been challenging, to say the least," Donald said. "I'm extremely grateful to be back here getting this opportunity. It really is humbling to think how the year started and how it's gone."
Quote to note
"It's draining for me. I'd really rather be setting up my bullpen starting in the sixth inning than suffering for eight and hoping for magic at the end."
--Indians manager Manny Acta, on his distaste for winning via walk-offs, as the Tribe has done eight times this season at Progressive Field.
Manager Manny Acta credited his pitching staff for keeping the Indians close enough in games for the offense to put together late comebacks. The Indians have tallied eight walk-off wins. On Saturday, the Tribe's latest victory via ninth-inning rally, starter Justin Masterson gave the Indians eight strong innings, allowing just two runs and nine hits. Cleveland scored four runs in the ninth off Royals closer Joakim Soria to win, 5-2.
"The whole credit goes to the pitching," Acta said. "Magic doesn't happen down by four or five runs very often. It's usually because of the job our starters and bullpen have done that kept us within one or two runs."
Lonnie Chisenhall didn't have a hit in Saturday's win against the Royals, but the rookie third baseman put together four solid at-bats. Chisenhall saw a total of 34 pitches in his four trips to the plate, working three walks. In the ninth inning, he battled back from starting down 0-2 in the count before earning a free pass from Soria with two outs and the teams knotted in a 2-2 tie. Matt LaPorta, the next batter, delivered a walk-off homer.
"Lonnie went up there and had a tremendous at-bat," Acta said. "He never panicked. ... Lonnie's at-bat was huge. He got LaPorta up to the plate. Also, with the circumstances and the crowd and the energy and all that, that was very valuable for him."
Entering Sunday's contest, the Indians had 58 games remaining on their slate, 40 of which will come against American League Central foes, including 12 against the division-leading Detroit Tigers.
Zack Meisel is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.