Healthy Kipnis vows to return with a vengeance

Indians second baseman eager to recapture All-Star form

Healthy Kipnis vows to return with a vengeance

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- It is safe to say that last year was a nightmare for Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis. An oblique injury in April caused enough damage to hinder Kipnis throughout the entire season, reaching a point where the issues went beyond being just physical in nature.

Kipnis could not even enjoy sweet dreams about a sweet swing.

"Even in my dreams of being at the plate," he said, "I was still rolling over on pitches."

That was last year. Kipnis is sleeping just fine these days.

Kipnis' offseason was not without its issues -- he needed surgery on his left ring finger after a weight-lifting accident in December -- but the second baseman reported to Spring Training leaner, healthy and eager to get back to the All-Star form he displayed two seasons ago. Even with the setback with his hand, Kipnis is expected to be cleared for games around the time the Cactus League schedule begins.

No one needs to tell Kipnis how bad his statistics looked last year. The second baseman is his own toughest critic, and he went to work over the winter to right all that went wrong. Kipnis does not lean on excuses, but there is no escaping the fact that the right oblique injury he sustained early in the year continued to limit his swing and hurt his defense deep into the season.

Kipnis looks at this spring and the coming season as a clean slate.

"It's a fresh start with the swing this season again. I'm happy about that," Kipnis said. "There was a little mental hump to get over and, finally, once I started swinging again, you start to realize it's good. It's full-go now and I don't feel it at all."

Flash back to 2013.

Kipnis was an offensive weapon for Cleveland, slashing pitches to the opposite field with authority often to generate a stream of extra-base hits. The second baseman made the All-Star team and ended the year with 17 home runs, a team-high 84 RBIs and an .818 OPS. The breakout season convinced the Indians to give him a six-year, $52.5 million extension that includes an option for 2020.

Now, flash back to April 29, 2014.

Kipnis tore his right oblique on a swing-and-miss in Anaheim. He landed on the 15-day disabled list and eventually returned to the lineup on May 28. Kipnis was not the same, though. Many of the outside pitches that were line-drive hits in 2013 became groundouts. After posting a .748 OPS before the injury, Kipnis turned in a .615 OPS the rest of the way and saw his overall slugging percentage drop by .122 from 2013 to '14.

"I tore it off the rib and just couldn't stay through a ball," Kipnis said. "On offspeed pitches, I couldn't get extension on anything. It just cut my swing off a bunch. You try to fight through it and you try to make an adjustment, but when you can't stay through a ball or get any extension on anything, it's hard to have too much success.

"But, it is what it is. It's somewhat difficult. You're trying to find any ways to make it work and I didn't find too many ways, obviously, last year. I'm happy to be over the hump with it."

To attack his oblique recovery, Kipnis had routine visits with a "muscle activation" therapist in Chicago. His winter program included strengthening of the oblique and more overall stretching. Rather than overdo it with weight lifting (Kipnis admits he reported to camp "stockier" than usual last year), the second baseman focused more on agility-based activities.

"That was one of our goals for Kip, even prior to the hand injury," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "[We wanted] him to take advantage of the offseason, to work on his quickness, his mobility and come into camp ready to continue to work."

The hand injury occurred when Kipnis was reracking a 45-pound plate while lifting weights in December. He pinched his ring finger between the plate and the rack and knew immediately that he had caused some serious damage.

"I was like, 'That's going to leave a mark,'" said Kipnis, who is able to laugh a little about it now. "And then I looked and there was a hole in my finger. I could see white. It was either the bone or a tendon or something. It was something I wasn't supposed to see."

It was another entry in Kipnis' series of unfortunate events, but the injury also served as a kind of blessing in disguise. While the second baseman had to alter his offseason program, he was forced to concentrate on non-lifting activities, helping him drop weight and make physical strides in the areas Cleveland wanted to see improvement for this year.

Kipnis reported to Arizona more than two weeks ago and is excited to put his 2014 nightmare behind him.

"He's said it to me numerous times," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "He wants to be a good player on a good team. And I think he found out the hard way that, when he's not playing well, he's not too happy. That's why I kind of kept saying I think he's going to bounce back with a vengeance."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.