Aviles And Johnson Must Step Up For Cleveland Indians In Kipnis’ Absence

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Reality set in Friday for the Cleveland Indians with the news that 2013 All-Star second basemen Jason Kipnis was headed to the disabled list. Kipnis stated that he was told it would be a ‘ballpark’ three to five weeks of play that he would miss with a strained right oblique suffered in a loss to the Los Angeles Angels on Tuesday night. It’s a big blow to an Indians team that needs something to go right. The team is in the midst of a six-game losing streak, and are 11-17, last place in the AL Central.

Manager Terry Francona said Friday that call-up Jose Ramirez from AAA Columbus would get some playing time at second, but utility infielder Elliot Johnson will get the call Friday night as the team starts a homestand with the Chicago White Sox. “Playing time has been sparse prior to the injury, that’s why I am here, it’s time for guys to earn their checks so to speak,” Johnson said Friday. “I feel like this is why I was signed here in the first place.”

Johnson’s playing time has been sparse, as he has appeared in just six games, going 2-for-15, good for a .133 average. Last season the 30-year-old played for the Kansas City Royals and Atlanta Braves, and in 111 games hit .209 with 22 steals to go along with two homers and 19 RBI. He was brought to the Indians primarily for his glove, but will get a chance to take his swings at the plate in with Kipnis out for anywhere from three to five weeks.

Ramirez came up and had a few moments with the Indians last September, mostly as a pinch-runner or a defensive replacement late in games. The 21-year-old has done well in AAA Columbus, hitting .319 with four homers in just 105 trips to the plate. Francona says one key for Ramirez is that he’s improved his English, which will help him understand more things at the Major League level. “He’s impacting the games with his glove, his legs and his bat, energy, kind of the things we need him to do,” Francona said of Ramirez.

Mike Aviles played 12 games at second a year ago for the Indians, but out of the three players that could play the spot, his bat is the best. Last season he hit .252 with 9 homers and 46 RBI. This season he’s played in 18 games and is hitting .240 with one homer and five RBI. “It’s always tough when you lose your three-hole hitter like Kip,” Aviles said. “At the same time, we have a lot of guys in here and we are going to try and do our best to pretty much keep it afloat.”

While Kipnis wasn’t having the same type of season as he did in 2013 when he was an All-Star (.234 with three home runs and 12 RBIs in 26 games in 2014), he is the table setter for the Indians’ offense, and there’s no doubt he will be missed. With Ramirez having the least amount of experience of the three guys that could play the spot, there’s no doubt it’s on the shoulders of Aviles and Johnson to carry the load while Kipnis is on the shelf.

Matt Loede has covered the Cleveland Indians for 20 years for National Networks like AP Radio, Metro Networks and other local and national stations. Follow him on twitter @mattloede.

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