If you’re like me, the moment the Cleveland Indians announced second baseman Jason Kipnis was dealing with a shoulder injury in Spring Training, you had a moment of panic.
We had just spent the past two years watching another core player – Michael Brantley – struggle to recover from a bum shoulder, so the idea of another member of the team enduring the same ailment was a lot to swallow. The fact Kipnis’ diagnosis quickly shifted from “just needs a cortisone shot” to “shut down for the rest of Spring Training” did little to calm the fan-base. Many began speculating just how long he might really be out, with some predicting he might get shelved until after the All-Star break.
However, those fears were put to bed when Kipnis made his 2017 big league debut in late April. For the first time in a while, the Indians had a fully healthy roster to work with. Kipnis, seen by many as the emotional leader in Cleveland’s clubhouse, was back and ready to be a key contributor.
So far, Kipnis has done a few things for the Indians, but contribute isn’t one of them. While he seems fine defensively, he’s had an abysmal performance at the plate thus far. His at-bats have been so bad it forces you to wonder if he might not be fully healed from the shoulder injury which sidelined him before the season started.
To be fair, the team hasn’t dropped any concerning hints regarding Kipnis’ health. This is merely speculation.
That said, you’d be hard-pressed to watch Kipnis at the plate this year and not wonder if there’s something wrong.
In 58 at-bats so far this season, he’s only collected nine hits. Add in just two walks and you can see the base-path isn’t really somewhere Kipnis has spent a lot of time. Equally alarming is the fact he’s already notched 17 strikeouts. This is one more than Carlos Santana has collected, despite the fact Cleveland’s first baseman has 74 more at-bats than Kipnis.
It’s all added up to a paltry .148 batting average, and an even more alarming .143 OBP.
The stats are one thing, actually watching him at the plate leads to even more concern. To be blunt, Kipnis looks completely lost right now. His frustration continues to grow as making contact becomes more and more of a gigantic hurdle.
Everyone’s susceptible to slow starts. Just ask fellow Indian Edwin Encarnacion, who’s still stuck in a funk to start his debut year in Cleveland.
Still, the difference between him and Kipnis is the latter is coming off the aforementioned ailment. This, plus the vague nature of the Indians’ injury updates, certainly gives you enough to wonder whether or not he’s dealing with lingering effects.
There’d be nothing wrong with Kipnis coming out and saying he’s still not quite healed. The team could shelve him for a bit, knowing Jose Ramirez proved more than able to man the fort at second earlier this year. Personally, I’d much rather him do this than keep flailing at the plate with a bum shoulder.
Again though, I’m basing this entirely on the eye-test. There’s been no actual indication Kipnis is ailing, he’s just struggling so badly you can’t help but wonder if it’s more than just a funk.
If his issues are indeed the result of lingering shoulder pain, though, the team shouldn’t just keep him in the lineup. His minuscule batting average is already a liability. That it might be due to a not-quite-full recovery would only make things worse.
Casey Drottar is an independent sports writer. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook