Inbox: Will Kip's return affect batting order?

Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers fans' questions

April 10th, 2017

Do you anticipate that will bat sixth when he returns from the disabled list? What other options does Indians manager Terry Francona have?

-- Jimmy G., Akron, Ohio

Francona has not tipped his hand as to what he is contemplating for Cleveland's lineup upon Kipnis' return. All he has said is that he plans on sitting down with both Kipnis and left fielder to hear their thoughts on the batting order.

There are a few reasons for such a meeting. For starters, Kipnis and Brantley are both leaders in the clubhouse -- not just on the field. Francona will want their input before making a decision that impacts not only them, but others in the lineup. Besides that, both Kipnis and Brantley have hit high in the order for much of their careers.

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When Brantley was sidelined in 2016, Francona used Kipnis in the No. 2 spot, with leading off and hitting third. Now that Brantley is back, he has been back in his usual No. 3 spot. That has bumped Lindor to the No. 2 role, while Santana has continued to lead off. Kipnis -- experienced in the Nos. 1-3 slots -- certainly adds a wrinkle.

There are a few factors to consider. Francona loves having the switch-hitting in the No. 5 spot, serving as protection for right-handed slugger . Beyond Ramirez, Francona also has switch-hitters in Santana and Lindor. Kipnis and Brantley both bat from the left side. In an effort to maintain balance, Francona tries to avoid having pure left-handed hitters batting consecutively.

There is a chance that Kipnis' return could mean Santana moves out of the leadoff role and back into the No. 5 spot, where his power still plays. In that scenario, maybe Kipnis would lead off like he did in 2015. Another option would be to move Brantley to fifth as a protection hitter, if Francona's preference is to keep Kipnis higher in the order and not in the No. 6 spot. It will be an interesting decision, for sure.

's place on the roster is probably safe when returns from the disabled list. Francona likes the pairing of Jackson (right-handed hitter) and (left-handed) in center field, and then Chisenhall (left-handed) and (right-handed) in right. has one Minor League option year remaining, so he can be sent to Triple-A without being exposed to waivers. It's also worth noting that Almonte made the team after it was determined that Chisenhall would open on the DL.

Part of the reason that Naquin was so productive in his rookie season was the fact that Francona limited his exposure to left-handed pitching. I'd expect that to continue -- at least throughout the first half. Francona has said that he believes Naquin can grow into the full-time role, but the manager also wants to balance maximizing production with development. Naquin's time will come.

As impressive as has been, especially during his strong spring showing, the Indians will want him playing regularly. When Kipnis comes back, it is hard to see where Diaz would get consistent at-bats. Ramirez would slide back to third base, and the outfield spots are all occupied. That could equal a trip back to Triple-A in order to keep Diaz playing every day. As for Mike Clevinger and , they're in the Triple-A rotation, and they will be two of the arms considered for a callup if a need arises.

Ramirez has looked fine at second base. That is actually his original position, but the Tribe began moving him around the diamond based on need in previous years. Cleveland will play Ramirez at third base when Kipnis comes back, but the team certainly knows he can be a trustworthy backup for second, too.

Have you heard anything about a possible Santana extension with the club? Or do you think he will test free agency?

-- Owen D., Northfield, Ohio

I have not heard of anything brewing in the immediate future. The Indians obviously love the kind of player Santana has developed into, and he has enjoyed his time with Cleveland. I'd expect there to be mutual interest in an extension, but nothing seems imminent.