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Kipnis hits sixth spring home run

Second baseman leads Cactus League in homers; bullpen candidate Torres throws one inning; Francona discusses bullpen carts
March 6, 2018

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Another day, another home run for Jason Kipnis. The second baseman's Cactus League shots are becoming about as common as the sunshine in Arizona. The only problem is that Kipnis' stat line will reset to zero when Opening Day arrives."I mean, if I could have my choice,

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Another day, another home run for Jason Kipnis. The second baseman's Cactus League shots are becoming about as common as the sunshine in Arizona. The only problem is that Kipnis' stat line will reset to zero when Opening Day arrives.
"I mean, if I could have my choice, I'd be saving all of them," Kipnis said with a laugh.
During Tuesday's 7-6 loss to the Reds, Kipnis sent a pitch from Cincinnati right-hander Kevin Shackelford out to right field for a two-run shot, marking his sixth home run in six games this spring. Kipnis has homered in five of those games, which included a two-homer outburst on Feb. 27 against the A's. Kipnis' six shots are tied for the most by a Tribe batter in Cactus League play since the team returned to Arizona for Spring Training in 2009.
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Kipnis did not overhaul his swing mechanics over the offseason. The veteran second baseman is not a recent convert to the so-called flyball revolution, either. No, this is just a player feeling healthy and enjoying a hot streak, which Kipnis is thrilled about following a turbulent offseason filled with trade rumors and in the wake of an injury-marred 2017.
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"If you ever hear me say the words 'launch angle' or anything like that, I'm lying right to your face," said Kipnis, who has hit .529 (9-for-17) with a 1.588 slugging percentage so far this spring. "That's not anything I've ever worked on or cared about. I work on hitting the ball hard where it's pitched and staying balanced and on time.
"[Health] is the difference. I said it before, when you're not healthy, your time, your days are spent with treatment and rehab and kind of strengthening whatever's kind of ailing you, instead of being in the cages working on your craft and stuff like that. So, with the luxury of health, you have the luxury of time to work on stuff."

Last season, Kipnis appeared in only 90 games due to issues with his right shoulder and right hamstring, which led to three stints on the disabled list. Coming off a strong 2016 -- in which he had 23 homers, 41 doubles and a career-best .469 slugging percentage -- Kipnis turned in a .232/.291/.414 slash line last year.
"It's a new year," Kipnis said. "I feel healthy. I feel motivated. I think that's a better word. Trying to prove myself again is a good place to be for any athlete."
Camp battles
The lone vacancy in the Indians' bullpen might very well come down to one of Carlos Torres, Matt Belisle or Evan Marshall, who are all in camp as non-roster invitees. Torres took the mound against the Reds on Tuesday and allowed a home run to Jesse Winker in his one inning of work.

"Between [Torres] and Belisle and Evan Marshall," Indians manager Terry Francona said, "the guys that have Major League experience, somebody's going to make our club. That's for sure. You try not to look too much at the first week, because guys are getting their legs under them. Belisle's only got one outing.
"So, we'll let them kind of get into their comfort zone and then hopefully in the next couple weeks you can kind of see the best of them. That's the goal."
Injury updates
• Right-hander Julian Merryweather, who is ranked No. 16 among the Indians' Top 30 prospects by MLB Pipeline, sought a second opinion on his throwing elbow from Dr. Keith Meister on Tuesday. Merryweather felt discomfort in the joint during a bullpen session on Feb. 16 and was diagnosed with a sprain of the ulnar collateral ligament. Francona said the team will have more information in the coming days.
• Left fielder Michael Brantley (right ankle) continues to go through agility work in his running program. Outfielder Brandon Guyer (left wrist) has advanced to front-toss drills in his hitting progression.
"I love it. I'm probably showing my age, but I love it. Growing up, every team did it and I loved that. I think it's cool. I just thought it was a little personality and we're probably the only sport that can do something like that. I always loved that." -- Francona, on bullpen carts
Worth noting
• Asked on Tuesday if the rotation's fifth spot was down to Josh Tomlin or Ryan Merritt, Francona replied, "I don't know that there's a lot of competition right now for the five spots." The manager also mentioned track record as an important factor. That would make Tomlin the leading candidate for the final starting job, while Merritt (out of options) remains in the mix for a bullpen spot and as the next man up, if the rotation hits any snags.
• In recent seasons, ace Corey Kluber has worked mostly with catcher Yan Gomes and righty Trevor Bauer has been paired most often with Roberto Perez. Francona said he hopes to avoid any strict pairings of pitchers and catchers this year. Said Francona: "I just think it's a little healthier just to have our guys catching when it seems to make the most sense, as opposed to having to catch a certain guy."
Up next
Bauer is scheduled to take the mound for the Indians on Wednesday, when Cleveland hosts the Cubs in an 8:05 p.m. ET pairing of the 2016 World Series participants at Goodyear Ballpark. Relievers Nicholas Goody, Dan Otero, Zach McAllister, Jeff Beliveau, Ben Taylor and Belisle are also penciled in to pitch for the Tribe. Lefty Jose Quintana is slated to start for Chicago. Fans can catch all the action live on MLB.TV.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.