Kipnis flourishing atop Indians' lineup

Second baseman goes 4-for-5 with HR in Sunday's win

Kipnis flourishing atop Indians' lineup

CLEVELAND -- Jason Kipnis is now tasked with deciding what kind of tone to set for the Indians' lineup. As Cleveland's new leadoff hitter, the second baseman can either take an aggressive approach in his first at-bat, attacking early in the count, or try to see as many pitches as possible.

In the first inning of Sunday's 10-7 win over Toronto, Kipnis opted for the latter strategy. He made Blue Jays starter Drew Hutchison work through nine pitches, fouling off four, watching four and seeing a mix of fastballs and changeups. On the ninth pitch, Kipnis rolled over a changeup for a groundout, but he had laid the groundwork for his next few at-bats.

"[Bench coach Brad] Mills looked up at me after that at-bat," Indians manager Terry Francona recalled, "and said, 'He'll do some damage today.' And then he did."

Kipnis ended the afternoon 4-for-5 with one home run, two RBIs and three runs scored for Cleveland, which scored eight runs between the fifth and sixth innings to pull off an improbable comeback victory. The showing from the second baseman was a continuation of his early-season turnaround, which has coincided with a recent move to the leadoff spot.

Since taking over as the Tribe's No. 1 hitter -- a role previously held by Michael Bourn -- all Kipnis has done is post a .344/.462/.688 slash line through 39 plate appearances in eight games. The second baseman had not belted a home run since July 31 last year (a span of 265 at-bats) before hitting one against the Royals on Wednesday. Now, Kipnis has three homers in his past five games.

On the season, Kipnis is batting .273/.327/.404 with three homers, six extra-base hits, 11 RBIs and 13 runs scored for Cleveland.

"He's doing a great job," Indians outfielder Michael Brantley said. "Setting the tone. Getting on base. Creating havoc."

During Sunday's win over the Blue Jays, Kipnis came through with a two-out home run against Hutchison in the third inning. He added an RBI single in a six-run fifth inning, singled and scored in the sixth and led off with a double in the eighth inning. It marked the first time Kipnis had a homer, three runs and four hits in a game since Aug. 10, 2011, against Detroit.

"Kip's a good hitter regardless of where he hits," Francona said, "but I think it has given us a boost, him being there [in the leadoff spot]."

Before the move to the leadoff spot, Kipnis was batting just .239 with a .522 OPS through 16 games.

What has been the difference?

"Getting base hits has helped me a lot," Kipnis said with a laugh. "April was rough. Things weren't falling. I had some good at-bats, where guys were making good catches, things like that. In May, they're starting to fall for me now. I'm also putting good swings on and not rolling over stuff and we're having better at-bats now."

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.