CHICAGO -- Part of the reason the Indians trusted Jason Kipnis with an everyday job at the start of the season was the belief that the young second baseman can be a spark plug for the offense. Kipnis has backed that up with his bat of late.Heading into Thursday's game against the White Sox, Kipnis appeared to be over some of the offensive woes that plagued him earlier in the season. As a result, Indians manager Manny Acta has used him as the Tribe's second hitter more often. "He has picked it up the last two weeks," Acta said. "We're very excited about the way he's playing." Over his past 10 games, Kipnis was hitting .421 (16-for-38) with a 1.026 OPS, entering Thursday. That strong stretch follows a 12-game slump to start the season in which he hit .167 (8-for-48) with a .622 OPS. In his first five games, Kipnis hit .095 (2-for-21). The second baseman has posted a .338 average in 17 games since that dry spell. On the season, Kipnis has hit .279 with a .351 on-base percentage and a .453 slugging percentage through 22 games for Cleveland. Along the way, he has contributed three home runs, two doubles, two triples, five stolen bases, eight walks, 13 RBIs and 13 runs scored. "He has matured pretty quick," Acta said. "He understands that this is a very humbling game and that nothing is going to come easy to him. And he has fit in pretty good since last year here. This guy is going to be a very good player, man. It's a process. He's going to have his ups and downs."
Sore Hafner sits; Damon slides into DH
CHICAGO -- If it was easy to simply stick to hitting home runs, Travis Hafner would certainly assume that approach for the Indians. That way, the veteran designated hitter could trot rather than run, and he would not have to worry too much about things like a sore right knee."Seriously," Hafner said with a laugh. "That makes a lot of sense." Hafner was able to joke about his current knee issue on Thursday afternoon, because the ailment is not considered serious. Even so, Cleveland opted to hold Hafner out of the starting lineup for Thursday's game against the White Sox. The Tribe gave Johnny Damon the nod at DH to give Hafner a precautionary day of rest. Hafner was hit on the side of the right knee by a pitch from Phil Humber in the third inning of the Indians' 6-3 win over Chicago on Wednesday night. In his subsequent at-bats, Hafner was noticeably bothered on the basepaths. One day later, Hafner said his knee was on the mend and he was optimistic about his chances of returning to the lineup soon. "It's a lot better now," Hafner said. "It hit right where there's no fat or anything. It's all bone -- so that wasn't a great spot. But, it felt better as I was icing it between at-bats and stuff. By the end [of the game], it was doing better." Damon returned to the lineup after exiting his Indians debut on Wednesday in the sixth inning due to general cramping. Damon went 0-for-3 with a walk as the Tribe's left fielder, but cited dehydration as the reason behind minor tightness in his legs, hands and back. "I don't think he'll cramp up now that he's DHing," Indians manager Manny Acta said with a smirk. Having Hafner back in the mix soon would be good news for the Indians. Over his first 20 games of the season, the 34-year-old designated hitter has batted .290 with a .438 on-base percentage, along with three home runs, four doubles, 12 RBIs, 17 walks and 20 hits. On Wednesday, he went 2-for-4 with a two-run homer in the ninth inning. "It's been a good start," Hafner said. "I feel like overall my approach and swing and everything feels really good. I can go up there every at-bat, no matter who I'm facing, and give myself a chance to do some damage and drive in runs. Overall, I feel like I've been pretty consistent."
Tribe bullpen is Acta's rock
CHICAGO -- There is one aspect of the Indians' roster over which manager Manny Acta does not lose much sleep."Our bullpen," Acta said. "It's never been a worry of mine." That includes early on this season, when Cleveland's relief corps experienced some uncharacteristic struggles. Acta insisted through it all that he was never concerned, and the Tribe's relievers have since come through with evidence that supports the manager's ease. Entering Thursday, the Indians' "Bullpen Mafia" was riding a streak of 15 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings over the team's past six games. During that span, Indians relievers had piled up 16 strikeouts against three walks and opposing batters had just a .060 (3-for-50) average. Since April 17, the Tribe's relief corps has turned a 1.74 ERA (eight earned runs in 41 1/3 innings) with a .170 (25-for-147) opponents' batting average across 14 games. Prior to that showing, the bullpen posted a 6.51 ERA (27 earned runs in 37 1/3 innings) with a .280 (42-for-150) opponents' average in the club's first eight games. The bullpen had a 4.00 ERA as a group, entering Thursday, and the Indians boasted records of 8-2, 9-1 and 9-1, respectively, when leading after six, seven or eight innings. "They're going to go through some tough spells here and there just like everybody else," Acta said. "But not even after that first homestand was there ever a doubt in my mind that those guys weren't going to be good for us. They have been a big part of what has happened here. "It's been pretty consistent that, once we take the lead after the sixth inning, we have a chance to win the ballgame."
Quote to note
"I've heard veteran guys in the past say, if you play in the AL Central, that you just try to survive April. And then when the weather warms up, the ball carries better and you can put up better numbers."
-- Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner
With his two-out RBI double in the eighth inning of Wednesday's 6-3 win over the White Sox, Indians third baseman Jack Hannahan improved to .400 (10-for-25) on the year in two-out situations. His 12 RBIs with two outs were the most in the American League, entering Thursday. Hannahan has also hit .500 (9-for-18) with 15 RBIs with runners in scoring position and .615 (8-for-13) with 12 RBIs with RISP and two outs this season. The Indians headed into Thursday with a chance to secure their fourth straight road series win to open this season. Cleveland has not won each of its first four road sets in a season since 1961. That year, the Tribe won each of the first four road series at Detroit, Washington, Kansas City and Baltimore. Infielder Jose Lopez cleared waivers and has been sent outright to Triple-A Columbus by the Indians. Lopez, who hit .190 (4-for-21) in five games for Cleveland this season, was designated for assignment on Tuesday to clear a spot on the roster for veteran outfielder Johnny Damon.