Jason Kipnis was warned the day would come when his body betrayed him.
Early in his major league career, veterans warned Kipnis the bruises would take longer to heal and those late nights would be harder to shake in the early mornings.
That time has arrived.
“When you’re 24, the excitement, the way your body feels, you can roll out of bed with a Red Bull and feel great,” said Cleveland’s steady second baseman. “Now, I need a Red Bull to get out of bed.”
But following an injury-riddled 2017 season, Kipnis has found another gear under the warm Arizona sun.
An All-Star in 2013 and 2015, Kipnis homered in each of his first six exhibition games, evidence the 30-year-old may be primed to produce more this season.
“I’m not trying to hit home runs,” Kipnis said. “If I had my choice, I’d save them for the regular season but you don’t get to do that.”
Kipnis spent all last year battling injuries, which limited him to 90 games. He arrived at camp with a sore right shoulder, and the lingering inflammation landed him on the disabled list before opening day.
He made two other extended trips to the DL with right hamstring problems, and if his medical issues weren’t troubling enough, the Indians moved him from the infield to the outfield and he wound up making 11 starts in center.
But he’s moved on, and so far Kipnis has been Cleveland’s best camper.
“Yeah, I’m MVP, clearly,” he joked. “It’s important alone in the fact that it’s good to feel good in spring training. It’s better than where I was last year at this point. Instead of being hurt, I’m having success. These games, in the end, really don’t count for anything. I know that, but you’re not going to hear me complain about working on stuff and seeing success out of it early. I just feel good.
“I’m confident and it’s showing.”
Kipnis, who was slowed by some lower back tightness recently, has been comforted in knowing that he’s going to stay at second base — for now.
The Indians signed Rajai Davis, who was with the club in 2016, and Melvin Upton Jr. to add depth and competition in the outfield.
Manager Terry Francona let Kipnis know he’s not fighting for an outfield job.
“I told Kip, I don’t want to ask him to do something that’s unfair,” Francona said. “Let’s do this together. Go out and be a second baseman. If there’s a need, that if something comes up we’ll do this together. Because of who he is and what he’s accomplished and what he can accomplish, I think it’s better if we do it together.”
Kipnis is signed through 2019, and the Indians hold an option for 2020. Because All-Star Jose Ramirez is more of a natural middle infielder than third baseman, there has been talk of moving Kipnis.
He understands it’s just part of the game.
“I’m not the first person to ever had trade rumors around his name, nor the last,” he said. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say you’re like, ‘OK, am I not wanted around here anymore?’ But that’s just the normal reaction every player would probably take. But once you step back and actually look at what’s going on, I understood it: small-market team and the contracts get up there in the later years and the way last year played out. If I’m a fantasy GM or something like that, I could see it too, or at least hearing offers.”
The past year has provided Kipnis with perspective. He’s older, wiser and grateful.
“I’ve come to, with the last season, a new appreciation for the game of baseball,” he said. “I’ve said it before: I enjoy the process now of hitting in the cage for hours. I enjoy the working out and stretching, all that stuff. It’s not stuff I could’ve said in years past. I was more of the gamer who would just show up and once the lights come on, ‘Let’s go.’
“But now it’s a need to enjoy the process a little more and it’s been fun for me.”