Encarnacion heating up, boosting Tribe lineup

Slugger's power, Kipnis' return could propel Indians' offense

Encarnacion heating up, boosting Tribe lineup

ST. PETERSBURG -- Edwin Encarnacion has a reputation as a streaky hitter, capable of pulverizing pitches for extended periods of time when he's on top of his game.

In June, he hit .322 with seven homers, 24 runs and 20 RBIs. But Encarnacion is also susceptible to spells when his average sags. In July, he hit .222 with four homers, 16 runs and 18 RBIs.

How does Encarnacion know when he's starting to heat up at the plate?

"When I start to make good contact," Encarnacion said. "When I start to make consistent contact with the ball."

Encarnacion made a noticeable impact in Cleveland's four-game series with the Rays. After going 0-for-3 in the opener, he went 4-for-12 with two solo home runs in the next three games. In Sunday's 4-3 win, he crushed an Austin Pruitt offering 426 feet to left, which sailed 110.3 mph off the bat, according to Statcast™.

"I feel a lot better," Encarnacion said.

Encarnacion leads the Indians with 24 home runs, putting the slugger on pace to bash 30 homers for a sixth straight season. That threat of power, especially when Encarnacion is consistently able to use it, is enough to change how a lineup functions.

"It's a huge threat right in the middle of the lineup, so it's going to make the other guys around him better, as well," Sunday's starter Corey Kluber said, "because that's a guy that's always going to be on a pitcher's mind, whether he's up, due up or just hit. So it can help more than just him; it extends the lineup."

The Indians seem poised to receive another lineup boost soon, as Jason Kipnis appears ready to rejoin the starting lineup at second base. Cleveland handled him cautiously after he felt tightness in his recently strained right hamstring, but Kipnis pinch-hit in the seventh inning Sunday (popout) and finished the afternoon playing at his familiar second-base position.

Kipnis has dealt with two stints on the disabled list this season, and he has produced a .225/.284/.387 slash line in his 71 games in between. Still, the Indians have to be optimistic that a cleaner bill of health will eventually help restore Kipnis to the form he showed the past two seasons, in both of which he notched more than four Wins Above Replacement.

"He's going to continue to help us and win," Encarnacion said. "It's always good to have our whole team together and healthy."

Connor Mount is a reporter for MLB.com based in St. Petersburg who covered the Indians on Sunday. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.