CLEVELAND — With a major change at the top of their batting order, the Cleveland Indians will host the Kansas City Royals Saturday afternoon at Progressive Field.
Indians manager Terry Francona has moved slumping second baseman Jason Kipnis out of the No. 2 spot in the batting order and replaced him with outfielder Michael Brantley.
Francona’s revamped lineup made its debut Friday night and it had Kipnis hitting sixth for the first time this season. The change didn’t do much for Kipnis, who went 0-for-3. Brantley, however, went 2-for-4 with a single and a grand slam.
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Kipnis, who hit 41 doubles and 23 home runs in 2016, had three stints on the disabled list in 2017 with hamstring and shoulder injuries that limited him to 90 games, during which he hit .232.
This year has been even worse for Kipnis, who is hitting .177, with a .256 on base percentage and .515 OPS. Against right-handed pitchers, he is hitting .143 with a .410 OPS.
“That second spot is such an important part of our order. We want to get Kip going again, and sometimes the best way to do that is to drop a guy down in the order,” Francona said.
Francona said the plan is not to have Kipnis hit sixth in the order permanently.
“We’d like to get him back to No. 2 because we’re a better team with him there, but right now this is the thing to do,” Francona said.
Before Friday’s game, the Indians activated reliever Andrew Miller off the disabled list. Miller had been out since April 26 with a strained hamstring.
To make room on the roster for Miller, the Indians placed left-hander Tyler Olson on the paternity list. Olson is expected to rejoin the Indians on Saturday, so another roster move will be made to accommodate his return.
Indians hitters on Saturday will face the only Royals starting pitcher with a winning record, right-hander Jakob Junis (4-2, 3.18). In his last start on May 6 vs. Detroit, Junis was the winning pitcher in a 4-2 Royals victory. In that game, Junis pitched seven innings, allowing two runs and eight hits, with eight strikeouts and one walk.
“His stuff is not eye-popping, but it is really good,” Royals manager Ned Yost told MLB.com. “He’s got a swing-and-miss slider. … When you put his name in the lineup, you feel pretty good about your chances.”
In two career appearances against Cleveland, one a start and one in relief, Junis has a 5.63 ERA, having given up five runs and 12 hits in eight innings, with four strikeouts and two walks.
Junis’ mound opponent will be Cleveland right-hander Mike Clevinger (2-0, 2.76), who will be making his eighth start.
Clevinger’s last start came May 6, a 7-4 loss to the Yankees. Clevinger did not get the loss, and probably should have gotten a win, given his outstanding pitching line: 7 1/3 innings, 1 hit, 2 runs, 10 strikeouts and four walks.
Clevinger faced the Royals on April 8 and had no decision in a 3-1 Indians win. He pitched 7 1/3 innings, allowing one run on 10 hits, with four strikeouts and two walks. In six career appearances against the Kansas City, Clevinger is 3-0 with a 2.12 ERA.
Cleveland could be without right fielder Tyler Naquin on Saturday. Naquin was removed from Friday’s game in the fifth inning because of a tight left hamstring. He underwent an MRI, and the Indians will await the results.