CLEVELAND -- The 2017 season was one full of challenges, injuries and long stints on the disabled list for two-time American League All-Star infielder Jason Kipnis, who switched to center field after his return late in the year and remained there throughout the Major League Baseball Playoffs.
But after an offseason of work, Kipnis felt primed and ready to lead the Cleveland Indians back to the postseason for the third consecutive year with the goal of finishing what started in 2016 and the winning of a World Series Championship.
The early returns on that offseason work have been positive, as Kipnis has belted five home runs, registered 10 RBI and scored five runs with eight hits in 14 at-bats in just five spring-training games.
Many of Kipnis’ five home runs have come against Major League-level pitching.
“The legs are good,” Kipnis said before the start of spring training. “We’ve had a real good offseason. They’re a lot stronger, a lot more flexible. We worked on stretching everything, and we’re just excited. I’m excited to kind of have a bounce-back year.”
Kipnis suffered through hamstring injuries during the second half of the 2017 season, but was able to get healthy enough to play during the stretch run ahead of the playoffs despite being out of position in the outfield.
Not wanting to upset the balance of the Indians’ talented infield, manager Terry Francona moved Kipnis to center field and he came up with the defensive play of the postseason for the team, a diving catch early in Game 1 of the American League Division Series against the New York Yankees.
Limited to just 90 games in 2017, Kipnis batted .232 with 78 hits in 336 at-bats with 25 doubles, 12 home runs, 35 RBI and 43 runs scored.
“I got after it this offseason,” Kipnis said. “I worked very hard, whether it was to rehabilitate my legs and hamstrings to get those healthy. It’s just to get everything where I want it to be to have a bounce-back season and contribute the way I know I can.”
By “learning what’s important, what’s not important when you’re training,” Kipnis felt that during the offseason, he learned to enjoy the grind of the workouts instead of focusing solely on the end result.
“I don’t need to be maxing out on a bench press,” Kipnis said. “I don’t need to be doing stuff that’ll get me stiff, stuff that’ll kind of prohibit me from being the best player that I can be. It’s not all getting stronger. It’s getting more flexible.
“It’s also aligning my spine right so my back and hamstrings aren’t kind of being yanked on. It’s a ton of little things, making my shoulder strong for throwing, and so, it’s working on all the weaknesses that I do have, emphasizing that, and then, building on the strengths that are already there.”
After the positive results of an offseason full of work and questions about whether or not he should be traded away, Kipnis is ready to prove the doubters wrong in 2018.
“Just to know that it’s out there, I like being on the side that I have to prove myself,” Kipnis said. “It gets a chip on the shoulder, which is where I play my best, I believe.
“Personally, I think we’re at our best when I’m contributing, but if I’m not contributing, who am I to say I’m the best option? I think when I’m healthy, there’s no one better there, and I plan to prove that.”