Inbox: Will Kip's return affect batting order?

Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers fans' questions

Inbox: Will Kip's return affect batting order?

Do you anticipate that Jason Kipnis will bat sixth when he returns from the disabled list? What other options does Indians manager Terry Francona have?
-- Jimmy G., Akron, Ohio

Francona has not tipped his hand as to what he is contemplating for Cleveland's lineup upon Kipnis' return. All he has said is that he plans on sitting down with both Kipnis and left fielder Michael Brantley to hear their thoughts on the batting order.

There are a few reasons for such a meeting. For starters, Kipnis and Brantley are both leaders in the clubhouse -- not just on the field. Francona will want their input before making a decision that impacts not only them, but others in the lineup. Besides that, both Kipnis and Brantley have hit high in the order for much of their careers.

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When Brantley was sidelined in 2016, Francona used Kipnis in the No. 2 spot, with Carlos Santana leading off and Francisco Lindor hitting third. Now that Brantley is back, he has been back in his usual No. 3 spot. That has bumped Lindor to the No. 2 role, while Santana has continued to lead off. Kipnis -- experienced in the Nos. 1-3 slots -- certainly adds a wrinkle.

There are a few factors to consider. Francona loves having the switch-hitting Jose Ramirez in the No. 5 spot, serving as protection for right-handed slugger Edwin Encarnacion. Beyond Ramirez, Francona also has switch-hitters in Santana and Lindor. Kipnis and Brantley both bat from the left side. In an effort to maintain balance, Francona tries to avoid having pure left-handed hitters batting consecutively.

Ramirez's two-run home run

There is a chance that Kipnis' return could mean Santana moves out of the leadoff role and back into the No. 5 spot, where his power still plays. In that scenario, maybe Kipnis would lead off like he did in 2015. Another option would be to move Brantley to fifth as a protection hitter, if Francona's preference is to keep Kipnis higher in the order and not in the No. 6 spot. It will be an interesting decision, for sure.

Austin Jackson's place on the roster is probably safe when Lonnie Chisenhall returns from the disabled list. Francona likes the pairing of Jackson (right-handed hitter) and Tyler Naquin (left-handed) in center field, and then Chisenhall (left-handed) and Brandon Guyer (right-handed) in right. Abraham Almonte has one Minor League option year remaining, so he can be sent to Triple-A without being exposed to waivers. It's also worth noting that Almonte made the team after it was determined that Chisenhall would open on the DL.

Jackson's RBI single

Part of the reason that Naquin was so productive in his rookie season was the fact that Francona limited his exposure to left-handed pitching. I'd expect that to continue -- at least throughout the first half. Francona has said that he believes Naquin can grow into the full-time role, but the manager also wants to balance maximizing production with development. Naquin's time will come.

As impressive as Yandy Diaz has been, especially during his strong spring showing, the Indians will want him playing regularly. When Kipnis comes back, it is hard to see where Diaz would get consistent at-bats. Ramirez would slide back to third base, and the outfield spots are all occupied. That could equal a trip back to Triple-A in order to keep Diaz playing every day. As for Mike Clevinger and Ryan Merritt, they're in the Triple-A rotation, and they will be two of the arms considered for a callup if a need arises.

Ramirez has looked fine at second base. That is actually his original position, but the Tribe began moving him around the diamond based on need in previous years. Cleveland will play Ramirez at third base when Kipnis comes back, but the team certainly knows he can be a trustworthy backup for second, too.

Have you heard anything about a possible Santana extension with the club? Or do you think he will test free agency?
-- Owen D., Northfield, Ohio

I have not heard of anything brewing in the immediate future. The Indians obviously love the kind of player Santana has developed into, and he has enjoyed his time with Cleveland. I'd expect there to be mutual interest in an extension, but nothing seems imminent.

Santana's two-run single

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.