Kipnis: Was not about me last year, it's not about me this year

'It’s OK as long as all of our goals are the same and that’s to win a World Series...'

Alex Hooper
September 04, 2018 - 7:25 pm
Sep 1, 2018; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians pinch hitter Jason Kipnis (22) hits a solo home run during the ninth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Progressive Field.

© Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

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Cleveland, OH (92.3 The Fan) – The past two years have not been the easiest for Jason Kipnis in a Cleveland Indians uniform, and things just got rougher.

Tuesday was day one of the 31-year-old’s shift back to center field, where he played 11 of the team’s final 12 regular season games in 2017, and all five American League Division Series games against the New York Yankees. Kipnis began fielding fly balls near the 400 ft. marker in center at Progressive Field pre-game.

That position will not be handed to the two-time All-Star, who was told he would have to be the ‘best option’ at the position. The competition will likely be between he and rookie Greg Allen, who made the postseason roster after being a September call-up from Double-A Akron a year ago.

Manager Terry Francona did not mention veteran Rajai Davis when speaking about the job.

Kipnis was understanding about the move, calling his conversation with Francona and President Chris Antonetti a short one. He added that he understands what new acquisition Josh Donaldson can bring to his team, one in which he hopes he can lead to a World Series title.

“As a professional, I’m going to handle it. I’m going to go out there wherever they need me,” he said. “I didn’t make it about me last year, I’m not going to make it about me this year.

“Do I love it? No. But I don’t have to love it.”

The eight-year veteran admitted that the move ‘took the wind out of his sails’ a bit, coming on the heels of Francona’s proclamation that the move would not happen. Then extenuating circumstances did.

“I’ve got teammates that are looking for me to step up as well. And it’s my own career. I have a lot of pride in it,” Kipnis said. “That’s why I was a little frustrated and hurt by it. But that’s why I’m still going to be meeting the challenge every time out.”

After an injury plagued 2017, Kipnis struggled to a .178/.254/.243 slash with a paltry 36 wRC+ through 119 plate appearances prior to May. Since then, things have gotten better, with a .240/.328/.412 slash and 101 wRC+. He is now tasked with trying to retain his progression at the plate while trying to re-learn – and win – a position.

Despite being the second-highest paid player on the team, he relishes that opportunity.

“I think everybody should be proven every day at every position that they’re the best out there, otherwise they shouldn’t be there,” Kipnis proclaimed. “Like I said, I don’t have time to be frustrated. I have a job to do and a position 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.”

The advantage, relatively speaking, is that Kipnis has a bit of a jumpstart on the move. Not only did he spend time in the outfield last year, he was informed of the move while coming off of the disabled list. In 2018, Kipnis is in mid-season form, at least athletically, and ready for the physical rigors of the position.

Transparency was key for the Tribe brass in approaching the situation, especially with one of the few holdovers from a process that has put Kipnis in a position to contribute in October.

Francona made it his goal to be as truthful as possible.

“It’s a little, I think I used the word unsettling,” he said. “It’s a guy, I’ve known Kip for six years now, it’s been a guy that we’ve depended on. Now, all of a sudden you’re having a conversation with him that’s probably not exactly what he wants to hear, so it’s not the funnest thing in the world. But I think the best way to start those is by being honest.”