Kipnis ready to fight for center-field role

September 4th, 2018

CLEVELAND -- isn't happy about the position he's in, but he understands the circumstances.

The Indians second baseman said Tuesday he's begun fielding fly balls in practice to get ready for his upcoming shift to center field brought on by the acquisition of former American League MVP Josh Donaldson. The team revealed after Donaldson was acquired on Friday that Kipnis will be moving to center field, but despite his veteran status, he isn't guaranteed the starting position.

"I've got to prove that I'm the best option out there," said Kipnis, who made his Major League debut with the Indians in 2011 and has been with the club since. "Which is nothing new. I think everybody should be proving every day at every position that they're the best out there, otherwise they shouldn't be there."

Donaldson will become the team's everyday third baseman after returning from a Minor League rehab assignment to test a left calf strain that's kept the three-time All-Star out since May. will move to second base, his original position, leaving Kipnis the odd man out.

"I've known Kip for six years now -- he's been a guy that we've depended on," manager Terry Francona said. "Now, all of a sudden, you're having a conversation with him that's not exactly what he wants to hear."

Kipnis' only Major League experience in the outfield came during an 11-game trial at the end of last season, but if Donaldson can help bring about the club's first World Series championship since 1948, Kipnis knows the move will have been worth it.

"I didn't make it about me last year, I'm not going to make it about me this year," Kipnis said. "Everyone knows what kind of player Donaldson can be. If he comes in healthy, then I'm excited. I understand their position, that they've got to put the best team out there to win this thing."

Donaldson reciprocated that sentiment upon his arrival to Cleveland on Sunday, praising Kipnis and Ramirez for sacrificing their spots to accommodate a newcomer.

"I just think it shows you how much this organization and the players in this organization want to win," Donaldson said. "Not just winning the regular season, but winning the postseason."

Kipnis admits his offensive effort hasn't helped his cause -- in 521 plate appearances through 127 games, he was hitting a career-low .226 with a .685 OPS, 14 home runs, 24 doubles and 57 RBIs, compared to his .263/.337/.416 career slash line.

The 31-year-old has turned things around of late, hitting .253/.344/.430 with five doubles and three homers in his last 24 games -- before hitting a pair of RBI singles in Tuesday's 9-3 win over the Royals. One of those homers came in the form of a pinch-hit solo shot on Saturday -- the day after the trade was official.

"I like having that little fire behind me," Kipnis said. "Hopefully it's a good thing. Hopefully it stays."

Other options for center field include , and , all of whom have manned the position longer than Kipnis. Allen has been the team's primary center fielder for most of the season, and has started nearly every game since early August, when trade acquisition contracted a bacterial infection that ended his season.

"I think we're a better team when Kip's playing well," Francona said. "[But] I told him, I said, 'You have to be our best option out there.' And I told Greg the same thing."

After Tuesday, 24 games remain before the postseason. With the Tribe's magic number down to 10 games, the strong divisional lead at least gives the club the luxury to make the move without fear of missing the playoffs.

Even though Kipnis is the one left out in this decision, neither he -- nor the team -- has time to get hung up with the logistics.

"I don't have time to be frustrated," Kipnis said. "I have a job to do and a position to win. When they said, 'Do you want to go to the outfield?' It's always been I'd rather be on the field than not. So if that means the outfield, then so be it."