7/21/2013 3:26 P.M. ET
Kipnis' success tied to opposite-field prowess
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
MINNEAPOLIS -- When Jason Kipnis sliced a pitch to the left-field wall at Citi Field during the All-Star Game on Tuesday, the Indians second baseman showed a national audience what Cleveland has witnessed all season long.
Kipnis can send a pitch to the opposite field with the best of them. In his second at-bat of Sunday's game, he knocked a two-run homer off the Twins' Scott Diamond, marking Kipnis' second game in a row with a shot to left field.
"It's kind of a gift," Indians manager Terry Francona said before the game. "I don't know that you can necessarily learn that."
It has been a gift that keeps on giving.
"I was joking around in the cage," Kipnis said, "that I almost don't even know what its like to pull the ball any more. I almost forgot what it feels like."
During Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Twins, the left-handed-hitting Kipnis singled to left field in the fourth inning to snap an 11-batter hitless streak for right-hander Kevin Correia. In the sixth inning, Kipnis slashed a 1-1 offering from Correia into the left-field seats for a two-run home run, which was the 14th shot of the season for the second baseman.
Dating back to May 1, when Kipnis was hitting just .189 on the season, the second baseman hit at a .333 clip (84-for-252) with 36 extra-base hits and 55 RBIs entering Sunday. Since June 1, Kipnis posted a .379 batting average to go along with a 1.076 on-base plus slugging percentage.
Much of Kipnis' production has come on hits to the opposite field.
"I think I'm doing a better job of staying on the ball. I'm letting it travel," Kipnis said. "Even when I'm going opposite-field, I can get too far in front. I'm letting it travel this year, and it's causing more of the success."
Francona said Kipnis can put a backspin on a ball hit to the opposite field with the best of them. The Indians manager mentioned Adrian Gonzalez and Manny Ramirez, both of whom he managed in his days with the Red Sox, as two other hitters with the same skill.
"That's part of his swing. If anything, he'll probably get better," Francona said. "I can't even backspin a golf ball."
Indians optimistic Kluber will make next start
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Indians are optimistic about Corey Kluber's chances of making his next scheduled start.
Kluber exited Saturday's 3-2 loss to the Twins after 93 pitches and five innings due to tightness in his left hip and upper left hamstring. The right-hander indicated that he was feeling better on Sunday morning and he hopes to start as planned against the Rangers on Friday.
"It's a little sore, still, but nothing that's to the same extent as last night," Kluber said on Sunday. "It's something I can pitch through. It was just a precautionary move."
As things currently stand, Kluber is slated to throw off a mound in a bullpen session on Tuesday in Seattle. With a team off-day coming on Thursday, Kluber would be making his next start with one extra day of rest. Indians manager Terry Francona said -- thanks to the off-day -- the team also has the option of pushing Kluber's start back by a day or two, if necessary.
"Today will be kind of just a day to work with [head athletic trainer Lonnie Soloff]," Francona said on Sunday. "Then he can start his five-day progression, which would set him up for Friday. If we need to change it, we could have [Justin Masterson] come back on his normal day [on Friday].
"I don't think anybody anticipates that we need to do that, but it's there if we need it."
Over his past 13 turns for the Tribe, Kluber has gone 5-3 with a 3.13 ERA over 77 2/3 innings, including 81 strikeouts against 18 walks. On the season, the right-hander has gone 7-5 with a 3.69 ERA in 18 games (16 starts).
Swish slumping, Francona considers altering order
MINNEAPOLIS -- Nick Swisher has been stuck in a prolonged slump of late, but Indians manager Terry Francona has kept the first baseman in the cleanup spot.
On Sunday, Francona indicated that he is considering shifting Swisher into the lineup's second spot -- an idea the manager also toyed with earlier in the season. Francona has hesitated to make the move due to the alignment of the batting order.
"I've given that a ton of thought," Francona said.
Francona does not want to move hot-hitting Jason Kipnis out of the lineup's third spot, and center fielder Michael Bourn has a home in the leadoff slot. The No. 2 role currently belongs to switch-hitter Asdrubal Cabrera, who helps split up the lefties (Bourn and Kipnis). Swisher also switch-hits, but Francona does not want to move Cabrera lower in the order.
"There have been times where I've thought about hitting him second," Francona said of Swisher. "He's always going to have his on-base skills -- that never goes away. But I guess I keep falling back on, I don't want to move Kip. ... I think when you're in the cleanup spot, you get pitched a little differently. I think Swish is finding that out. I guess if somebody could handle it, I'd want him to be the one."
Entering Sunday, Swisher was hitting .239 with nine home runs and 31 RBIs in 81 games. His .391 slugging percentage is a career low. Over his past 35 games, Swisher batted just .188 with a .566 on-base-plus-slugging percentage.
Part of the problem has been a nagging left shoulder issue, which will likely persist throughout the second half. Francona does not believe that is the only factor behind Swisher's slump, though.
"I think that his shoulder won't be 100 percent all year," Francona said. "That's something he has to deal with. I just think it's probably been a lot of things. I think there's been times when he's tried to do too much, because he's pretty conscientious. He wants to put his team on his shoulders, and I think sometimes you just need to play the game.
"I tried to remind him of that [Saturday] night: 'Just play. That's why we got you. You're a good player.' Guys try to do too much out of caring. It's a good quality, but it can get you in a rut."
Quote to note
"Kip hit it right through the wind. I was like, 'Wow.' When he backspins that ball to left field, man, it's impressive." -- Francona on Kipnis' home run in Saturday's loss
• Francona gave the nod to utility men Mike Aviles (third base) and Ryan Raburn (right field) for Sunday's game against the Twins. That pushed Bourn and third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall to the bench.
"I think our team can be really productive when we use everybody," Francona said. "I feel very fortunate with the bench we have. We have a really usable, productive bench. You can maximize your 25-man roster. That's a real help."
• Entering Sunday's game in Minnesota, Cleveland's pitching staff had not allowed a home run in 76 consecutive innings, covering eight games. It marked the longest such streak by an Indians pitching staff since a 96-inning homerless stretch from July 11-24, 1992.
• Dating back to July 7, the Indians starting rotation carried a 4-0 record with a 1.96 ERA heading into Sunday's action. Over 59 1/3 innings, the Tribe's starters had given up just 13 earned runs and held hitters to a .190 batting average.
• Indians outfielder Michael Brantley entered Sunday tied for the American League lead among left fielders with eight assists. The last Indians left fielder with at least eight assists in an entire season was Albert Belle in 1994.