CLEVELAND -- Jason Kipnis made a spectacular catch in the sixth inning of Friday's 2-0 victory over the Pirates, but the Indians second baseman was quick to credit an adjustment made moments before his highlight-reel grab.
A quick decision by Tribe third-base coach Steve Smith helped put Kipnis in perfect position to make the play. Prior to the pitch that led to the second baseman's catch, Smith instructed Kipnis to move back a few feet.
"He nailed that one," Kipnis said.
With one out and Pittsburgh's Neil Walker on third base in the sixth, the Indians infield was aligned in a pull shift against Pirates designated hitter Garrett Jones. First baseman Casey Kotchman, Kipnis and shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera were all on the right side of the infield, and they each were playing in on the grass.
Smith glanced at the positioning and saw a collision waiting to happen.
"When I'm looking at it, there's three guys next to each other," Smith explained. "How many times do you have the shift on with the infield in? It very rarely happens. So, to me, it was like, if that ball is hit in between, we're going to have a collision. That kind of went in my head."
Smith thought of a similar situation in a May 17 game against the Rays in 2010. With a shift on, Asdrubal Cabrera broke his left forearm in a collision with Jhonny Peralta, and he missed two months of the season as a result. Smith did not want to risk having a similar play unfold on Friday night against the Pirates.
"Another thing is [Jones] is a power hitter," Smith said, "So I just put [Kipnis] back five steps to give him a little more range."
Jones lofted a pitch from Indians sinkerballer Justin Masterson into shallow right field and Kipnis was able to track it down with a great over-the-shoulder catch. Kipnis quickly spun and threw the ball to the plate, keeping Walker at third base. Masterson then induced an inning-ending groundout from Casey McGehee.
"It worked out," Smith said.
Indians part of crowded buyer's market
CLEVELAND -- There is nothing to suggest that the Indians will not be buyers in the weeks leading up to the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline. The only problem is that the marketplace is currently flooded with teams in a similar position.
With the addition of a second Wild Card into the postseason mix this season, there are more teams -- including Cleveland -- in the hunt for playing in October. The trade market remains undefined, but there is one aspect that is already developing.
"It seems like there will be more teams that are buying than selling," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "And if you have that asymmetry in the market, those teams that are selling players may be able to command a higher return than they have in the past."
The Indians seemingly have clear needs, both in their offense and the rotation. Antonetti is keeping an open mind all fronts as trade discussions begin to pick up. Cleveland could benefit from adding a right-handed power hitter -- especially in the outfield -- or a starting pitcher who offers consistency.
It remains to be seen whether the Indians will pull off a blockbuster move similar to the one they swung with Colorado last July, when a four-player prospect package brought pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez to Cleveland. Even after parting with prized arms Drew Pomeranz and Alex White in that deal, Antonetti believes he still has the pieces to make such a splash.
- 142 wins
- 110 wins
"I do think we have players within our farm system that other teams like," Antonetti said. "There are obviously places where we can look to improve and upgrade. We'll certainly explore each and every one of those opportunities to do that."
First and foremost, Antonetti is hoping the current roster performs better as the season shifts toward the second half.
"I still think we have confidence in the roster and the guys that are here," Antonetti said. "We have not yet collectively played to our potential. We're in a fortunate position that we're still in a competitive spot in the standings and we haven't played our best baseball."
"I feel we need the guys that are on our roster to maybe produce a little bit better than they have. I think they'd be the first to tell you -- not every player, but a number of guys -- that they haven't produced to their own level of expectations or what we expected."
Hafner to begin running next week
CLEVELAND -- Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner is feeling good and doing everything in his power to return to the lineup as quickly as possible.
On Saturday, Hafner stood at his locker with a brace on his surgically repaired right knee, discussing his latest comeback attempt. Hafner has advanced to hitting in soft-toss sessions and noted that he will begin a running program within the next week.
The Indians indicated that Hafner would require of recovery period of four-to-six weeks following his surgery on May 31. That would put Hafner on pace to return by the end of this month at the earliest, or around the onset of the season's second half at the six-week mark.
"I don't really know at this point," said Hafner, referring to his possible return date. "But everything is going really well, so hopefully I can be on the short end of that."
Hafner underwent a right medial meniscectomy at the Cleveland Clinic, and the 30-minute procedure was performed by Dr. Rick Parker and Dr. Mark Schicendantz.
This marks the sixth stint on the disabled list for Hafner over the course of the past five seasons. Hafner has previously been shelved due to right shoulder issues (2008, '09 and '10), as well as right oblique and right foot injuries ('11).
Through 39 games this season, Hafner is hitting .242 with six home runs, six doubles and 23 RBIs. After hitting .357 with a 1.081 OPS over his first 12 games of the season, Hafner posted a .189 average with a .693 OPS over his next 27 games prior to the injury.
Hafner remains uncertain about the knee injury's origin.
"I'd never felt that before," Hafner said. "I really don't know. I mean, the knee was really fine and just kind of that day during the game [on May 23] it got really sore running. I don't know the cause of it."
Indians sinkerballer Justin Masterson turned in seven shutout innings in a 2-0 victory over the Pirates on Friday and manager Manny Acta said Masterson's slider was as strong as it has been all season.
Masterson has been turning to the breaking pitch more this year, throwing it 22.4 percent of the time, compared to just 14.9 percent in 2011.
"Really, it's just mixing and matching," Masterson said. "It just kind of happens. There's certain starts where it's effective, so you keep using it. Sometimes, looking at them, too, some people call them sinker-sliders."
Indians center fielder Michael Brantley entered Saturday's game riding a career-best 22-game hitting streak. It also represented the longest such run in the Majors this season. Brantley's 22-game streak is the longest for a Cleveland hitter since Casey Blake enjoyed a 26-game run in 2007.
Indians third baseman Jack Hannahan was out of the lineup on Saturday after returning from the 15-day disabled list on Friday. Acta indicated that Hannahan will likely play on an every-other-day basis for his first week back, after a bout with lower back and left calf issues.
Triple-A Columbus placed infielder Andy LaRoche on the seven-day disabled list on Saturday with a left shoulder strain. The Clippers also added first baseman/outfielder Matt LaPorta to their roster. LaPorta was optioned to Triple-A by the Indians on Wednesday.
Quote to note
"I think it all depends on which players are available and which players we'd be bringing back. I certainly feel we have enough talent in our farm system to execute a trade if there are any trades out there."
--Indians general manager Chris Antonetti, when asked if he will be aggressive in his efforts to pull off a major deal before the July 31 Trade Deadline