CLEVELAND -- Not bad for a player who was told he could not make the postseason roster and be a positive contributor while playing out of position.
When Cleveland Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis returned from the disabled list in late September, he found the infield was crowded with star defensive players, and instead of upsetting the balance, he embraced a switch to center field, his position at Arizona State.
And Kipnis’ work has paid off, as he made a diving catch early in Thursday’s Game 1 matchup against the New York Yankees in the 2017 American League Division Series at Progressive Field, a game in which the Indians won by a 4-0 count.
“That’s all I’ve been reading is that I shouldn’t be starting in center and that I’m a liability, but the main person thinks I can, and that’s myself, so I know I can do it,” Kipnis said. “I’m going to have some fun doing it. They’ve asked me to do it, and so, I’m pretty much just going to go out and play.”
In the top of the third inning of Game 1, Kipnis showed why manager Terry Francona was comfortable with putting him back in the outfield.
Designated hitter Chase Headley led off the inning by smashing a Trevor Bauer pitch toward the gap in left-center field, but Kipnis hustled over from center, timed his leap perfectly and hauled in the catch at near full extension for the first out of the frame.
Bauer threw both of his arms up in the air in appreciation, and then, let out a scream and two fist pumps before returning to the mound to strike out Aaron Hicks and get Brett Gardner to ground to shortstop for the final outs of the inning.
“We were shaded over into the other gap, and it was kind of those ones,” Kipnis said. “It’s probably one of the first balls I’ve had in the gap to go get so far. I got a good read on it, on the jump, and fortunately, Lonnie (Chisenhall) kind of peeled off and went back to back me up so there was no collision, but it was a fun one to finally run after and cut it down.”
Although Kipnis was out of practice in center field, he has put in the work necessary with bench coach Brad Mills to be a competent outfielder, and with every game, is gaining confidence in himself, as well as from teammates and coaches.
“I thought it was great,” outfielder Jay Bruce said. “I think with Jason making that move and being willing to make that move shows the selflessness that kind of embodies this whole team, in my opinion.
“We have a lot of very talented players on the roster, and I think that it just boils down to how can we help the team the most? Jason took it in stride, especially coming off a hamstring injury, going out to probably the most physically demanding position on the field speaks volumes of him.”
Bauer added, “I was pretty pumped up about that. Yeah, I think there's some people that have kind of doubted his ability in center field given that he hasn't played a whole lot out there, but hopefully, that puts that narrative to rest. We all trusted that he could go out there and play defense like that.”