Surging Kipnis slugs Clevinger, Tribe past Twins

Second baseman continues hot streak with go-ahead 3-run home run

August 30th, 2018

CLEVELAND -- As watched the baseball soar over right field on Thursday afternoon, the Tribe second baseman hoped it had enough distance. In the same way, Kipnis is hoping that the last few games have been the turning point he has sought all season.

The deep fly in question found its way just over the wall in the sixth inning, eliciting a roar from the Progressive Field crowd and a fist pump from Kipnis as he settled into his trot. The three-run blast off Twins reliever helped power the Tribe to a 5-3 victory, and gave Mike Clevinger some room to breathe in his trip to the win column.

"I was willing it over that wall," Kipnis said. "I was hoping I got enough of it and I was watching the whole time. I usually just watch the outfielder and see how big his eyes are getting or if he's timing up a jump. Once the fans' arms go up, mine goes up with them."

This has been a trying season for Kipnis, who is one of the vocal leaders and veterans in the clubhouse for the American League Central-leading Indians (76-57). There have been hot streaks scattered throughout the past five months, but the cold spells have been long and frigid. Kipnis has been waiting for one of the positive streaks to generate some offensive momentum.

The second baseman did his part to force the issue on Saturday in Kansas City, where his frustration boiled over into a late-night swing session in his hotel room. Kipnis set up an iPad, studied his swing from 2016 and grabbed a magazine off a table to grip as a bat. He felt he found something in his hand placement and was excited to take it into Sunday's game.

Asked which magazine he used, Kipnis let out a laugh.

"Why is everybody asking that?" he said. "I really don't know. I didn't bring it from home. It's whatever was in the room there. If you want to go in-depth, you can call the hotel and see what's in their rooms."

People want to know because if Kipnis keeps hitting like he has over the past handful of games, that magazine could become the stuff of Tribe lore.

One game does not erase months off struggles, but Kipnis responded with a four-hit day that was capped off with an inside-the-park home run at Kauffman Stadium. After Monday's off-day, the second baseman collected two hits and a walk on Tuesday and then doubled and walked once against Minnesota on Wednesday.

"Just from listening to him talk," Indians manager Terry Francona said, "he's been wanting to get the feeling of using his hands."

Kipnis carried it over into Thursday's game, during which doubled in the third inning against Twins starter Jake Odorizzi. Then in the sixth -- after pulled the game into a 2-2 tie with an RBI single -- Kipnis lifted a 2-2 pitch from Busenitz to right. Per Statcast™, the ball had a 35-degree launch angle and a 91.7-mph exit velocity, which equated to a 6-percent hit probability.

"Three hundred and thirty nine feet!" Indians outfielder shouted as he walked by Kipnis after the game.

Whatever works.

Twins right fielder Max Kepler jumped at the wall, but the baseball dropped into the old visitors' bullpen -- now a section for fans below the right-field seats. That propelled the Tribe to a 5-2 lead and helped Clevinger improve to 10-7 on the season behind 6 2/3 innings. Clevinger struck out nine, walked one and allowed two unearned runs in the win.

Indians reliever Brad Hand surrendered a solo shot to in the ninth, but that is where the Twins' comeback bid ended.

Kipnis' showing on Thursday gave him a .600 (9-for-15) average with five extra-base hits and a 1.200 slugging percentage over his past four games, dating back to his swing epiphany on Saturday night. That has been a welcomed development for the second baseman, who is batting .229 with a .689 OPS on the season for the Tribe.

Kipnis hopes this hot streak lasts.

"It would be nice. It'd be a lot less stressful for me if this one stuck," he said. "We've had good days in the past. Unfortunately, I've taken steps back after them, too. That's what happens when I grind like that this year. To piece a couple good days in a row together, the confidence can start to come back and the energy starts to pick up a little bit, especially this late in the year. It can do a lot of wonders."

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED

Shift change: With one out and runners on first and second in the sixth, the Twins aligned their infielders in a pull shift against the lefty-swinging Alonso. The Tribe first baseman then went after an elevated fastball over the outside edge from Busenitz, slashing it through the gaping hole on the left side of the infield for an RBI single. That pulled the game into a 2-2 deadlock and helped set the stage for Kipnis' three-run blast later in the inning.

"He's hit a couple balls this last week hard the other way," Francona said. "I know he's not going to make a living over there, but man, there's a lot of hits over there."

Clev's lone lapse: opened the fifth inning by sending a pitch from Clevinger sharply to the left side of the infield, where third baseman was unable to corral the ball. Clevinger struck out the next two batters, but the error gave Minnesota an extra chance. took advantage, crushing a 2-0 fastball out to right field for a two-run home run that put the Tribe down, 2-1.

SOUND SMART

Following a walk in the seventh inning, Ramirez stole second base, marking his 29th steal of the season. That puts the Tribe's third baseman one steal away from joining Grady Sizemore (2008) and Joe Carter (1987) as the only players in Indians history with at least 30 homers and 30 steals in a single campaign. The last players in MLB to achieve the feat were and , who both did so in 2012.

HE SAID IT

"It's a hard man to get his trust. He's been around awhile and really knows the game, so you've really got to earn it here. Especially with the staff that's before me, it's pretty clear why you have to earn it. That's why I was so fired up." --Clevinger, on Francona letting him log 114 pitches

UP NEXT

Right-hander (16-7, 2.91 ERA) is slated to start for the Tribe on Friday, when the Indians host the Rays at 7:10 p.m. ET in the opener of a three-game series at Progressive Field. Cleveland's ace has gone 8-3 with a 2.24 ERA in 14 starts at home this season. Tampa Bay will counter with righty (1-3, 4.18).