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Kipnis rides rising confidence to 3-hit breakout

'I’m excited to see where we go from here,' Indians veteran says
@MandyBell02
June 16, 2019

DETROIT – Jason Kipnis was able to rest easier Saturday night than he has in a while. The Indians second baseman has struggled offensively all season, hitting .207 with a .556 OPS and just two homers in his first 49 games entering Sunday’s 8-0 victory over the Tigers. But in

DETROIT – Jason Kipnis was able to rest easier Saturday night than he has in a while.

The Indians second baseman has struggled offensively all season, hitting .207 with a .556 OPS and just two homers in his first 49 games entering Sunday’s 8-0 victory over the Tigers. But in his final at-bat on Saturday, a swinging strikeout against Joe Jimenez, he found an answer that he’s been looking for.

“I found something with my hands,” Kipnis said. “So, I went to bed last night with at least some hope for today.”

The results were immediate. The left-handed hitter served a double to the opposite field in the first inning, plating Carlos Santana to give the Indians a 1-0 lead. In his next at-bat, he launched a two-run homer, his third of the season, to right-center. He later picked up a single in the eighth, logging his first three-hit game of the season, which is the most in a game since he recorded four on Aug. 26 of last season.

“Shoot, come back to hit a ball hard the opposite way, it just seems like it gets you locked in,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Then he ends up hitting the home run.”

“You get through the tough times and the [bad] games to get to these good ones, I think,” Kipnis said. “So I came today with what I found last night and went right back to where I was happy about it, and you saw when [my] hands kind of align, it moves my contact point back, which means it’s going to be less rollovers, less ground balls to the right side. I know everybody’s going to be thrilled about that if that were to stop.”

Last season, Kipnis hit .230, but he still launched 18 homers and knocked in 75 runs. Just two years prior, he slashed .275/.343/.469 with 23 long balls and 82 RBIs.

“I think you’re just seeing the hitter that I used to be and can be,” Kipnis said. “It’s still in there. So, I’m excited to see where we go from here. This is day one. I want to see where we go now, because I’m excited.”

Just finding a possible solution to his struggles has given him a new level of confidence he was missing before.

“You’re not thinking about negative things,” Kipnis said. “You’re not thinking about, ‘Hey, let me do anything I can to just not hit it over to the right side.’ That creates bad habits as well. They shift me, they pitch me in and they throw offspeed. They’re trying to get me to hit it to the right side, so it’s hard when you say, ‘Hey, just hit it over there.’ They’re pitching against that as is.

“When I feel good, like I did today, everything just falls in line, where I was like, ‘Oh, it makes so much more sense now how to hit it back that way, like it used to.’ It just releases the tension and relaxes you and allows you to get back to doing damage on a pitch instead of just worrying where it’s going.”

Francona has often penciled Kipnis in the cleanup spot against right-handed pitchers since outfielder Oscar Mercado got called to the big leagues, claiming the second spot in the order. In his nine-year career, Kipnis played in just 19 games as the cleanup hitter, and has already racked up nine starts in the four-hole this season.

“If he still has trust and belief in me, then I should still have belief in myself, too,” Kipnis said. “Sometimes, a lot of these guys believe in me more than I even believe in myself. That comes with being in a rut and you start to lose a little bit of that confidence. But I have to realize that I’m still very capable, they’re still relying on me and to not give up and keep pushing, because games like this will come if I keep at it.”

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