Kipnis confident he'll find groove at the plate

Kipnis confident he'll find groove at the plate

TORONTO -- Several hours before Wednesday's game against the Blue Jays, Jason Kipnis stepped up to the plate at Rogers Centre for an early round of batting practice. Hitting coaches Ty Van Burkleo and Matt Quatraro looked on, giving their input between swings.

As the voluntary pregame session before the Indians' 8-7 loss to the Blue Jays showed, Kipnis has been working to regain the rhythm that he enjoyed at the plate in a standout showing last year. The second baseman's season was delayed due to a right shoulder issue this year, and he has been slow out of the chute, posting offensive numbers that are uncharacteristic given his career track record.

"I was just trying to get a long session in of hitting out there," said Kipnis. "I'm working on little key points that I try to emphasize when I'm trying to get back into the groove of things. It's weird. I've had good days, where I've felt great and just haven't gotten the results. I've had bad at-bats, too.

"I'm just kind of in that point where I'm not far. I think even the hitting coaches and [manager Terry Francona] know it, too. I'm not far at all."

Kipnis backed up those words in a 2-for-5 showing against Toronto.

In the first inning, Kipnis received an inside fastball from Blue Jays lefty Francisco Liriano and pulled the pitch into the right-field corner for a two-run double. Two innings later, Liriano sent another two-seamer inside to Kipnis, and the second baseman yanked it into right field again -- this time for an RBI single. Both hits were reminiscent of how Kipnis attacked fastballs a year ago.

Kipnis' RBI single

"[His at-bats] were tremendous," Francona said. "He's one of the best I've ever seen in that situation, where it's first and second. You can bunt. They bring the infield in. He squares around, but then he feels like he's in a position where he can do [damage]. And he took two good swings both times.

Part of Kipnis' issue early on this season has involved his swing rate.

Heading into Wednesday's game, Kipnis had swung at 51.9 percent of pitches this season, representing a career-high pace. Prior to this year, the second baseman's previous high for one year was 43.1 percent, and his career swing rate sits at 41.5 percent. Kipnis had swung and missed at 12 percent of pitches, which is a considerable spike from his career rate (7.3 percent).

Kipnis' contact rate sat at 76.9 percent, entering Wednesday, marking the first time since 2011 (his rookie year) that it has dropped below 81 percent.

"His swing is good. His swing is the same," Quatraro said. "Some of those things happen when guys are uncomfortable. You're going to try to swing your way out of it, so his swing rates are probably up, trying to chase the result rather than just stick with what works. It's just human nature."

Per Statcast™, Kipnis posted a .514 slugging percentage on fastballs across the 2015-16 campaigns. Last year, the second baseman adopted a more aggressive approach on inside heaters, and his overall production included career bests in home runs (23) and slugging percentage (.469) for a full season. Through 16 games this year, Kipnis has posted a .222 slugging percentage against fastballs.

Given Kipnis' solid history of production, Francona remains confident that the second baseman will break free from his slump soon.

"Like any player, I think you get aggravated, because nobody likes making outs," Francona said. "But, he knows it, I know it, his teammates know it -- I'm telling you -- he'll get as hot as he got cold. I wish I knew the formula for that, but it's true. He just needs to grind through his now and the better days will be there and there will be a lot of them."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com 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.