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Kipnis (calf) ready for rehab assignment

@MandyBell02
April 4, 2019

CLEVELAND -- The Indians' middle infield has been plagued with injuries since the start of Spring Training, but the team may be nearing the return of one of its two missing starters. Jason Kipnis was at Progressive Field on Thursday, working out with his team prior to the series opener

CLEVELAND -- The Indians' middle infield has been plagued with injuries since the start of Spring Training, but the team may be nearing the return of one of its two missing starters.

Jason Kipnis was at Progressive Field on Thursday, working out with his team prior to the series opener against the Blue Jays. He stayed in Goodyear, Ariz., after the team broke camp last week to rehab his right calf strain. His plan is to drive to Columbus, Ohio, on Thursday evening, where he will begin his rehab assignment at the Triple-A Clippers on Friday.

"The body finally feels good," Kipnis said. "Calf and ankle feel good. Everything's starting to get into place. The muscles are where they need to be. I think we're just going to head on to Columbus and start getting some games under our belt."

Kipnis suffered the mild strain during a game on March 20. About a week prior to that, he had been sidelined for a few days after experiencing some tightness in the calf after he had already missed a handful of games due to flexor tightness in his left leg.

"It was nice that part of the time that I missed was during Spring Training," Kipnis said. "It wasn't during the season, so it cut that down. … Obviously, I want to be out there and playing with these guys and helping right now. But the time that I did miss was beneficial for me and I was able to get my legs under me again. So hopefully we'll come out of the gate running here."

The second baseman said he is hoping he will be ready to join the Tribe at some point during their nine-game road trip to Detroit, Kansas City and Seattle from Tuesday through April 17.

"It's not just the at-bats, I think it's getting his body back in shape, especially in this weather," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "But we'll communicate daily. Our medical staff does a really good job of staying on exactly what they've done, how they've come through it, how much running they've done, how much intensity. And they monitor it pretty closely."

Brad Miller has received the majority of the playing time at second in Kipnis' absence, with Max Moroff mixing in. Moroff delivered the game-tying RBI single in Monday’s 5-3 comeback win against the White Sox in the Indians' home opener, but he has not recorded any other hits heading into the Toronto series on Thursday. The Indians offense has gotten off to a slow start and Miller and Moroff have gone a combined 3-for-21 (.143) at the plate through the first five games.

"I think besides [Jose Ramirez] and [Carlos] Santana, you have a lot of guys maybe in their first time in a starting role," Kipnis said. “I want to give them all big hugs through the TV and try to calm them down and relax. Because there's some good players here, whether they're nervous or what. They just need to relax."

Getting Kipnis back in the lineup will be the Tribe's first step toward getting its roster back to full strength. The team is still waiting on shortstop Francisco Lindor to recover from a left ankle sprain, and Bradley Zimmer is on the 10-day injured list as he recovers from his right shoulder surgery last July.

"When he's a good player, we're a different team because he can hit up in the order and the game doesn't go too fast for him," Francona said of Kipnis. "Like he's, situationally, he's really good. We've talked about, whether it's first and second situations, he can lay a bunt down. If he's comfortable off a guy, hit a ball in the gap -- yeah, we miss that."

Ballpark's 25th anniversary

Progressive Field celebrated a milestone anniversary on Tuesday, marking 25 years since the opening of Jacobs Field. On Thursday, Francona took a moment to remember his earliest memory of coming to the ballpark.

"In '01 when I came here when I was a special assistant, I just remember, I couldn't believe, I walked from like the Hampton Inn up here and everybody had Indians gear on," Francona said. "I had just come from Philadelphia and we weren't very good and there were some down times. Everybody had Indians gear and the place was full and I was just like, 'Whoa, this [is] how it can be.'"

This date in Indians history

1994: Wayne Kirby hit a walk-off RBI single as a pinch hitter in his first career game at Jacobs Field, as the Tribe beat the Mariners, 4-3, in 11 innings.

Mandy Bell covers the Indians for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter at @MandyBell02.