Kipnis made Francona look like a genius.
"Good players can do that," the manager said with a smile.
Kipnis entered the day with a .155 batting average through 19 games, following a stint on the disabled list for a right shoulder issue that sidelined him for most of the spring. Francona has avoided any drastic lineup changes to this point -- the manager will rarely react to slumps with lineup shuffling -- but opted to make a change on Sunday with Twins lefty Hector Santiago on the mound.
Francona always wants a sound reason for altering his batting order, but he felt this one made sense. Lefty batters had posted a 1.170 OPS on the year against Santiago, while righties were sporting a .515 OPS. Beyond that, Cleveland's lineup had been in a funk, scoring three runs or fewer in nine of the previous 11 games. The Twins held the Indians to one run combined over the past two contests.
On Sunday morning, Carlos Santana was informed that he would be batting fifth, rather than leading off like he had in the first 35 games. Kipnis, who had mostly been in the fifth or sixth spot, returned to the No. 1 slot, where he thrived for the Indians in 2015.
"For me, it doesn't matter," Santana said. "I appreciated Tito, he sent me a message this morning and he told me I'm hitting behind Edwin [Encarnacion]. I'll be OK. I try to prepare every day, every game, every time. So, I don't have a problem with that."
Back in 2015, Kipnis was batting .239 (.522 OPS) through his first 71 plate appearances when Francona moved him to the leadoff spot. The second baseman then hit at a .398 clip over his next 30 games and ended the year with an .863 OPS. This time around, Kipnis had a .359 OPS through 74 plate appearances when his manager made the same move.
Kipnis led off the first inning with a home run to center off Santiago. The second baseman then pulled a pitch into right for a single in the second. One inning later, Kipnis yanked another offering into the right-field stands for a three-run home run, following which he once again waved to his mom in the stands. Kipnis had a hard lineout (101 mph off the bat) in the fifth and then added an opposite-field single in the eighth.
"Today was one of those ones where it kind of all culminated," Kipnis said, "and came together, where it was just, locked in, seeing the ball up and over the plate."
That made Francona's pregame decision well-timed.
"It's safe to say we were in need of a little shakeup before going into this game," Kipnis said. "The last week, we haven't been hitting the way any of us would like. I thought we both felt it was the right time."
On top of that, Kipnis' game made for a nice Mother's Day gift for Kay.