GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- It’s spring training and he’s played in only three games, but Jason Kipnis looks like he’s on track to regaining his old All-Star form.
After a injury-filled and unproductive season last year, Kipnis and the Indians will take anything close.
“Yeah, I’m MVP (this spring), clearly,” joked Kipnis, who is 6-for-8 with five RBIs and a team-leading three home runs and 15 total bases. He homered in his second at-bat and twice in his second game. “It’s important alone in the fact that it’s good to feel good in spring training. It’s better than where I was last year at this point. Instead of being hurt, I’m having success. These (games), in the end, really don’t count for anything. I know that, but you’re not going to hear me complain about working on stuff and seeing success out of it early.
“I just feel good. Like I’ve been saying all along, I’ve had a good offseason, I feel good coming in. I’m confident and it’s showing.”
Kipnis, an All-Star in 2013 and ’15, felt far from good for much of 2016, opening the season on the disabled list with a right shoulder injury and missing a large portion of the second half with a right hamstring strain. He was limited to 90 games, batting a career-low .232 with 12 homers and 35 RBIs.
“When he’s healthy he’s proven he can be an All-Star type player,” manager Terry Francona said. “We need that.”
With Jose Ramirez shining in place of him at second base last year, Kipnis looked dispensable. It’s part of the reason the Chicago native, who has spent his entire six-year career in Cleveland, heard his name mentioned in multiple trade rumors this winter.
“I’m not the first person to ever have trade rumors around his name, nor the last,” Kipnis said. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say you’re like, ‘OK, am I not wanted around here anymore,’ but that’s just the normal reaction every player would probably take. But once you step back and actually look at what’s going on, I understood it -- small-market team and the contracts get up there in the later years, and the way last year played out. If I’m a fantasy GM or something like that, I could see it too, or at least hearing offers. But at the same time, once I realized that I have a season to get ready for, regardless of who it’s for, that becomes your main focus instead of what the rumors are and what’s going on behind the scenes, because you don’t have any control over that.
“You can take a lot of things personally. There’s stuff you can react to how you want to, but in the end, the way you change everyone’s mind is by going out and producing, going out and playing well. No matter if people are on your side or against you, if you go out and play well, it’s hard to say anything to that.”
None of the rumors became reality and Kipnis reported to training camp with the Indians. Upon his arrival, he learned he was returning to his old second base spot after playing center field in place of an injured Bradley Zimmer at the end of last year -- and that Ramirez was moving back to third.
“I’m definitely excited to still be in an Indians uniform this year,” Kipnis said. “I love this group here. I’ve always stood by this group here and have always said that I love this group here.
“I’ve come to, with the last season, a new appreciation for the game of baseball. I think I’ve said it before: I enjoy the process now of hitting in the cage for hours. I enjoy the working out and stretching, all that stuff. It’s not stuff I could’ve said in years past. I was more of the gamer who would just show up and once the lights come on, ‘Let’s go.’ But now it’s a need to enjoy the process a little more and it’s been fun for me.”
That reflection is an example of the new and matured Kipnis. He began his offseason workouts sooner this year and has changed plenty more with his routine as he’s gotten older.
“The game is the same. The epiphany and eye-opener came — when you’re 24, the excitement, the way your body feels, you can roll out of bed with a RedBull and feel great. Now, I need a RedBull to get out of bed,” said Kipnis, who turns 31 on April 3. “That was the eye-opener. I’m eating healthy and stretching and doing all that stuff. Why don’t I feel the same? You just get older. That’s all it is. You just realize that it takes more.
“It’s weird how often that’s forgotten by some people who don’t play the game. You always make the adjustments each year of working smarter instead of harder. You realize what actually is important in terms of success and what you need to do. Whether it’s not maxing out on the bench (press), it’s stretching. It’s not doing all these other things that just take away time from what’s important and you refine your approach.
“You always heard it from older players. It just takes more to do the same, to do what you used to do. I stretched for 30 minutes before. Now I need 45 minutes or an hour. The game itself hasn’t changed. When you put in the work and feel good, whether I was 24 or 30, when I feel good, I’m very confident that I can have success. It’s just getting to that point of feeling good that takes a little bit more effort now. But I’m not mad about it. You’re turning over a new leaf. You’re finding new stuff that works for you and I’m happy that it’s working.”
Kipnis and the Indians are hoping the new stuff brings back the old All-Star second baseman.