7/6/2014 1:00 A.M. ET
Kipnis shows flashes of regaining form at plate
By Alec Shirkey / MLB.com
CLEVELAND -- It's no secret that second baseman Jason Kipnis is still searching for his comfort zone this season, but he's flashed promising signs at the plate in a handful of his recent performances.
Over his last 10 games, Kipnis has hit .310 with six extra-base hits after a 2-for-4 game against the Royals on Saturday. Oddly enough, all of those hits have come in six games, and he's gone 0-for-14 with seven strikeouts in the other four contests.
"It's still inconsistent right now," Kipnis said. "When I feel like I'm coming of out it, it feels like it's a two step forward, one step back thing. [I'm] still striking out more than I'd like."
The strange part about Kipnis' season, however, is that his plate discipline has been fairly consistent with his career averages. He has struck out in 18.7 percent of his at-bats this year and owns a 10.1 percent walk rate, compared to lifetime rates of 19.3 percent and 10.4 percent, respectively, for the left-handed hitter.
Could Kipnis' power drought be due to the lingering effects of a strained oblique that caused him to miss nearly all of May? Not likely, says the 27-year-old.
"It doesn't hurt. At the same time, it might not be letting me rotate all the way through," Kipnis said. "Right now, when I'm slumping, you've got a [5-foot-11] guy whose approach is [hitting] the other way, I don't know how many home runs you're going to get out of that."
Kipnis' knack for opposite-field hitting has been one of the most important facets of his offensive production. Entering the second game of the series against Kansas City, he was hitting only .267 with a .367 slugging percentage in at-bats where he's hit the ball to left field. His career batting average on balls hit that way: .361 with a .515 slugging percentage.
"I think when you see Kip hit the ball to center and to left-center with authority, that's when he's getting locked in," Tribe manager Terry Francona said. "When he's back-spinning that ball off the left-center field wall, hit a ball to center field, that's a really good sign. I think that's when it shows that he's on balance and keeping ahead of the bat through the zone. He did that a couple times on the road trip."
That very approach was made apparent on Saturday, when Kipnis slapped a third-inning double out to left-center field that helped spark a three-run outburst from the Indians' offense.
"That's the swing right there," Francona said. "When he's doing that, he's doing something right, and that's when he has the chance to do some damage."
The time the former All-Star second baseman spent on the sideline with his oblique injury likely contributed to an already difficult season, Francona notes, and that has perhaps caused him to over-think his at-bats. After all, Kipnis is likely far from where he'd like to be midway through the season.
At the very least, however, he's shown glimpses of returning to the multi-dimensional hitter he's been in the past for Cleveland.
"Right now we're just worrying about hard contact," Kipnis said. "I think once we get the bat on the barrel, the home runs will start to come."
Gomes cheers on Brazil, gets breather vs. Royals
CLEVELAND -- As Yan Gomes took batting practice before Friday's clash with Kansas City, World Cup foes Brazil and Colombia went toe-to-toe in the background on the Progressive Field scoreboard.
Gomes, the Tribe's Brazilian-born catcher, quietly cheered on his countrymen in between his pregame cuts as they bested Colombia, 2-1, but he cringed when superstar Neymar went down.
"It was probably even one of our most impressive games we played, especially against a hot team like Colombia," Gomes said. "But a huge loss in losing in Neymar."
Gomes has been nothing if not rock-steady for the Indians this season. The 26-year-old has caught in 70 of 85 games, freeing up Carlos Santana to play full-time in the infield, while providing capable production on the offensive end. On Saturday, he was given a much-needed day of rest against the Royals after starting 12 of the last 13 games behind the plate.
"We've had a few days off as a team, but he really has caught just about every game," Tribe manager Terry Francona said. "They got a lefty going tomorrow against [Corey] Kluber, they got a righty tonight, and George [Kottaras] just caught T.J. [House]. It just seemed to make sense."
Gomes has proven especially valuable in shutting down opposing teams' running games. Entering Saturday, his caught-stealing rate (36.4 percent) ranked fourth among qualified catchers -- a mark he improved after throwing out Lorenzo Cain to turn a 2-5 double play on Friday.
"That's what Gomer can do. He's such a force behind there, that's part of why we don't really pitch out that much, because of the way he throws," Francona said.
Of course, when he's not nabbing runners from home plate, Gomes has been following international soccer -- and giving his teammates a hard time about his home country's success. He's even recruited Venezuelan shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera to root for Brazil along with him.
"It's just a lifestyle down in Brazil," Gomes said. "Here you can pick up a basketball, pick up a baseball. In Brazil, you don't do that. It's all soccer. You can make a soccer ball out of nothing. That's pretty much how it was growing up."
Quote to note
"You're just trying to make your mark in the Major Leagues. All of a sudden, you get here for a while and realize that you can help a team win. That group of guys is maturing at the same time and they're becoming a very good team. But it's not surprising that they've become a good team when they added pitching." -- Francona, on the Royals
• First baseman Nick Swisher shagged balls in the outfield and took extra batting practice ahead of Friday's series opener with the Royals. The 33-year-old has been a designated hitter in 10 of his 18 games since returning from the DL on June 12, and he's drawn just three walks during that span.
"More work is better. You can always rest," Francona said. "You've got to be so strong mentally to be an everyday player in our game."
• Double-A Akron outfielder Tyler Naquin and infielder Joe Wendle, both of whom fractured their hands last week, underwent surgery at the Cleveland Clinic on Thursday. Naquin had been batting .313 through 76 games with Akron, while Wendle owned a .259 average with eight homers on the year. The two are out indefinitely.
• Right-hander Travis Banwart has reached agreement with the SK Wyverns of the Korea Baseball Organization. Banwart went 5-2 with a 3.12 ERA in 16 starts with Triple-A Columbus this season, but he was moved to the Temporary Inactive List on Friday ahead of the deal's announcement.
Alec Shirkey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.