BALTIMORE: Seventy-two percent of Jason Kipnis’ hits to the outfield in June have gone to left field or center.
So what? Maybe hitting the ball up the middle or the opposite way (Kipnis bats from the left side) is one reason why he is batting .405 for the month, heading into the Indians’ game against the Baltimore Orioles on Thursday night.
“I’m not really trying to go the other way,” Kipnis said. “But when I stay through the ball and keep my bat in the zone as long as I can, that’s what happens.”
In May, 58 percent of Kipnis’ outfield hits went to left or center, and he batted .261. Kipnis got off to a slow start in April and also missed games with an injury. His batting average for the month was .200, with 58 percent of his hits going up the middle or the opposite way.
So is there a cause-and-effect relationship between Kipnis’ batting average and which field the ball lands in?
“When a hitter uses the whole field, you’re probably going to see his batting average go up, because they have to defend the whole field,” manager Terry Francona said.
Francona, like most managers and coaches, wants his players to focus on hitting the ball up the middle, whether they actually hit it there or not. Certainly there are hittable pitches begging to be pulled, and hitters don’t want to waste those, either.
“What surprises me is how Kipnis hits the ball with such authority the other way,” Francona said. “You can’t hit a ball that hard to the opposite field unless you’re really on balance. And if you’re on balance, you can pull pitches, too.”
When Kipnis gets the right pitch, he yanks it to right, like the double he hit Monday night. So he was half kidding when he said, “Thoughts about pulling the ball got into my head and I had to shoo them away.”
Francona likes to make it clear that Kipnis does more than hit for a healthy average.
“Every time he hits the ball, he runs to first like his pants are on fire,” Francona said. “That’s not the be all and end all, but it makes you feel good. He gives you everything he has on every play.”
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.