4/30/2014 7:39 P.M. ET
With Kipnis' injury, Tribe's depth put to test
By Jordan Bastian / MLB.com
ANAHEIM -- When the Indians assembled their bench over the past two offseasons, the idea was to add versatile players capable of handling a full-time job. That way, if an unexpected injury came up, Cleveland would have replacements at the ready.
On Tuesday, the Indians faced their first test of the season along those lines. All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis exited with a right abdominal strain and it is unclear how much time he will miss with the injury. It is now up to utility men such as Mike Aviles, Elliot Johnson and Ryan Raburn to help fill in.
"They happen," Indians manager Terry Francona said of injuries. "You don't know when they're going to happen, but you know they're going to happen. ... It usually comes up, so finding guys that are able to play once a week, and also play every day when need be, that's a really hard mix.
"That's why we were so happy when we got Aviles. Raburn fits that. They're hard to find. That's why, when something happens to somebody, we generally just play those guys, because they get their at-bats, they stay ready, they're very professional."
With outfielder Michael Brantley getting a scheduled day off on Wednesday, Aviles started in left field for Cleveland. Johnson got the nod at second base, considering Kipnis is sidelined. The right-handed-hitting Raburn was in the lineup as the designated hitter, because the Angels had left-hander C.J. Wilson on the mound.
All three utility men -- Aviles, Johnson and Raburn -- can handle the corner outfield spots, with Aviles and Johnson also offering contingency plans for center. Aviles also gives Cleveland depth at second base, shortstop and third. Johnson can play all four infield spots and is the Tribe's emergency catcher. Raburn has experience at the infield corners and second base.
"We have a lot of guys that can play multiple positions," Aviles said. "So I think that kind of helps, as far as in the event of injuries. I think [general manager Chris Antonetti] and [Francona] have done a great job of building a roster in that way. You're kind of giving yourself some cushion in case people do get hurt."
Tribe waiting before finalizing plans for injured Kipnis
ANAHEIM -- Jason Kipnis was feeling better on Wednesday morning, but the Indians plan on waiting a little longer before determining whether a trip to the disabled list will be necessary for the sidelined All-Star second baseman.
During Tuesday's 6-4 loss to the Angels, Kipnis exited in the fourth inning after sustaining a right abdominal strain on a swing that resulted in a double play groundout. The second baseman has been receiving treatment for the injury, but he has not yet undergone an MRI exam.
With an off-day on Thursday, Cleveland could wait until Friday to determine whether Kipnis should be placed on the 15-day disabled list.
"We could wait longer than that," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "There's no rush to put a guy on the DL. We can handle it. We'll just kind of see how he responds."
Francona said the good news was that Kipnis felt improvement when he woke up on Wednesday.
"We've all seen it and been around it," Francona said, "where, during the action of a game, a guy feels like it's minimal. Then they wake up in the morning and feel like they've got a knife stuck in them. He doesn't feel like that, so that's good."
After Tuesday's game, Kipnis compared the immediate discomfort to being punched in the back. The second baseman said on Wednesday that the pain had decreased, but he acknowledged that he was still sore. Utility man Elliot Johnson was in the lineup at second base in place of Kipnis for Wednesday's game in Anaheim.
"I feel all right," Kipnis said. "You're always going to feel a little bit sore in the morning after something like this happens, but I feel all right. I'm getting a lot of treatment right now. I think that's going to help it a lot. With today off and tomorrow off, we'll see how it feels and go from there."
Through 27 games this season, Kipnis has hit .234 with three home runs, six doubles, four stolen bases, 12 RBIs and 12 runs scored for Cleveland.
Francona added that Cleveland might be fortunate in the sense that Kipnis sustained the injury on a swing during which he made contact with a pitch. A missed swing that results in a side injury can often lead to a more severe oblique issue for players.
"That might've helped," Francona said. "The fact that he hit the ball and didn't miss, maybe we caught a break. Who knows? But maybe we did."
Tribe keeping things in perspective after rocky start
ANAHEIM -- No one needs to tell the Indians that they have experienced a disappointing April. The players within Cleveland's clubhouse are frustrated over the early results, but they are also trying to keep things in perspective at the moment.
The Tribe went through similar trials last season.
"When you think about it," Indians utility man Mike Aviles said, "we already know what we have here in this locker room. If you can tell, we're not really hitting the panic button."
Aviles was referring to the fact that -- through all the ups and downs that the Indians faced last year -- Cleveland finished 2013 as the American League's top Wild Card team. Last season, the Indians had five losing streaks of at least five games, suffered an eight-game losing streak in June and were below the .500 record as late as June 17.
Entering Wedesday, the Indians had dropped five in a row on their current road trip to slip to 11-16 on the season.
"I don't think we want to get to the point where we use that as an excuse or a crutch," said Corey Kluber, referring to leaning on last season's experience. "We want to play better baseball, but I think there is that to fall back on that. You know we had some rough spells last year and with a lot of the same group of guys and we can use those experiences, hopefully."
The Indians headed into Wednesday's action in last place in the AL Central, facing a 4 1/2-game deficit behind the first-place Tigers.
"There's just not that much baseball left. Making up 4 1/2 games is definitely going to be tough," Aviles joked. "No, the crazy part about it is, I don't know if anybody on the team itself has actually looked at the standings. When you think about it, there's so much that can go on. Five months of baseball is a lot. That's a lot of baseball. A lot of variables. A lot of things can happen.
"We're trying to win each game. It's just unfortunate that we've been in a little rut and we haven't been able to get things going in our favor. The best way to say it is as cold as you get, you can get just as hot."
Quote to note
"It's unfortunate to potentially lose a guy like Kipnis. But, at the same time, there's so much depth. Nobody is going to be able to pick up what he's been able to do, but the hope is two or three guys can maybe pad the way until he can get back out there."
--Indians utility man Mike Aviles, on the injury to second baseman Jason Kipnis
• In the fifth inning of Cleveland's 6-4 loss to Los Angeles on Tuesday, Angels manager Mike Scioscia challenged the final out call on a double play that ended the frame. The ruling was overturned, the Angels had new life and the Indians went on to give up two runs in the inning.
It was Indians manager Terry Francona's son, Nick, who gave Scioscia the go-ahead to challenge the play. Nick Francona, who is the Angels' coordinator of Major League player information, also serves as the team's instant-replay coordinator during games.
"I thought that was kind of weak on his part," Terry Francona deadpanned. "He may work for Scioscia, but he's my son."
Francona's son was hired by the Angels this past offseason. In 2011, Nick Francona served his country overseas, commanding a Marine brigade's scout-sniper unit.
"I'm really proud of him," said the elder Francona. "It's actually kind of a comforting feeling knowing you have your son 50 yards away. I'm not sure where he is, but I'll tell you what, it beats the [heck] out of him being in Afghanistan. I have thought about that."
• Michael Brantley was out of the lineup on Wednesday, but it was just a scheduled day off for the outfielder, who had started in each of the Indians' first 27 games. Francona said he did not consider changing the plan for Brantley, even though Jason Kipnis (right side) was forced out of the lineup due to injury.
"That would've been a mistake," Francona said. "If a guy needs a day off, he needs a day off. That's where I think maybe if I was younger, I would've done that. I don't think it's right. I think then you start chasing your tail, and that's not good."
• Francona not only tracks pitches, innings and appearances for his pitchers, the manager also keeps track of the number of "stressful" innings for members of his staff. It is something Francona has always done throughout his managerial career.
"I just thought it made sense," Francona said. "I think you can mislead yourself very easily just by looking at who pitched and how much. You've got to look at how much they're up, how quickly you got them up, there's a lot of things that can lead into guys not being productive."