3/13/2013 4:16 P.M. ET
Pressure easing off Kipnis in 2013
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Jason Kipnis is having fun this spring. That much is easy to see, whether the Indians second baseman is in conversation with his locker neighbor, Jason Giambi, or dressed as a giant parrot, doing the worm dance outside the entrance to Cleveland's complex.
This is where it should be noted that the latter scene is not a regular event. That was just Kipnis' contribution to the team's recent "Harlem Shake" video that hit the Internet on Wednesday morning. Parrot costume aside, it is clear that Kipnis is enjoying the environment in camp this spring.
With so many additions -- additions that include a handful of proven players -- Kipnis can take a deep breath and know that Cleveland's offensive fate no longer rests on his young shoulders.
"It's more a stress-free environment than it was last year," Kipnis said.
Last year, the Indians leaned heavily on Kipnis as their rotation and offense labored in the second half. The second baseman will not say so, but it was too much of a burden on a player navigating his way through his first full season in the big leagues. The rigors of baseball's marathon schedule, combined with the team's overall struggles, weighed on Kipnis in the second half.
Kipnis believes he will be better for the experience, having now experienced the daily grind and required adjustments that go along with a 162-game schedule. Indians manager Terry Francona also feels the second baseman will be better for the new arrivals who will help alleviate the pressure previously placed on Kipnis and the Tribe's other young players.
The Indians have added an established run producer and vocal leader in Nick Swisher, two defensively sound and swift outfielders in Michael Bourn and Drew Stubbs, and a right-handed slugger in Mark Reynolds. The result will be less stress for the likes of Michael Brantley, Carlos Santana and Kipnis.
"I think having some veterans around will be good for him," Francona said of Kipnis. "Sometimes guys come up and they play, and they're good players, but having some help, or having some direction, can be really beneficial."
As Cleveland's offseason makeover unfolded, Kipnis' excitement level increased.
Following a 94-loss season, a rebuild was a possibility.
"You're happy that the team is looking to win now," Kipnis said, "that it's not rebuilding or anything like that. It's not a project. We've obviously put in the money, and we've brought in guys who are ready to win now. You just know that it's going to be more of a fun year.
"It's a much more competitive team. The team we're going to be putting out there is going to be in a lot more games than we were last year."
Francona has not announced his projected regular-season lineup, but Kipnis has been regularly slotted into the No. 3 hole this spring -- behind Asdrubal Cabrera and in front of Swisher. If that winds up being Kipnis' home in the batting order come Opening Day, the second baseman will look forward to the opportunity within this retooled offense.
"I like to be there," Kipnis said. "I think I can have some good at-bats there and create a lot of runs there."
Kipnis spent 53 games in the third hole last season, but he was forced into the heart of the order out of necessity. That is not to say the second baseman does not boast the ability to handle such responsibility, but there was a revolving door behind him in the cleanup spot, and it is rare for a young player to be asked to shoulder that kind of load.
In his first 59 games, Kipnis performed admirably, hitting .285 with a .345 on-base percentage, a .460 slugging percentage, 10 home runs, 19 extra-base hits and 39 RBIs for the Indians. Over his next 65 games, though, Kipnis' slash line slipped to .222/.309/.301, and he managed just three homers, 13 extra-base hits and 26 RBIs.
Kipnis hit .180 in August, when Cleveland turned in the worst showing (5-24) for a single calendar month in the history of the franchise.
There were plenty of lessons learned for Kipnis.
"First off, you learn how long the season is," said Kipnis, who hit .274 that September. "You learn the peaks and valleys of the season. You learn that kind of pushing yourself too much, or trying to overwork the problem, becomes kind of counterproductive in the end.
"Sometimes you need to step away, clear your head, simplify things and say, 'Maybe I don't need an extra hour in the cage to get out of this slump. Maybe I need to just put the bat down and see the ball, hit the ball.'"
This season, Kipnis, 25, will have plenty of experienced players to remind him of such things.
"I think that's where the veterans come into play," he said.
Kipnis certainly flashed his potential last season, and the Indians are excited about what the second baseman has in store for this year and the years to come.
Overall, Kipnis hit .257 with 14 homers, 22 doubles, 31 stolen bases, 67 walks, 76 RBIs and 86 runs scored in 152 games for the Tribe. He tied Santana for the team lead in RBIs and ranked second among American League second basemen in that category. He also joined Mike Trout and Ryan Braun as the only players in the game with at least 10 homers, 25 stolen bases, 70 RBIs and 80 runs.
Those marks have been reached by a player in a single season only eight times in Indians history.
"He's hard-nosed," Francona said. "He's a good offensive player, and I don't think we've seen the best of him yet. He's still learning."
And Kipnis is looking forward to learning more from the players Cleveland has added to the fold.
He also knows their presence can make life a little less stressful.
"When you bring in guys like that," Kipnis said, "guys who are proven, who will hit for a high average, who will hit for power, it definitely does take off a lot of the pressure to be the guy that has to hit the home run here. Right now, it's more just keep the lineup moving, and get it to the next guy.
"There's more trust in the guy behind you than last year."
There is a lot more fun being had, too.