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Jason Kipnis finding opposite-field stroke

Shooting the ball the other way was the game plan for Jason Kipnis as he went opposite-field in each of his four at-bats against Tampa Bay on Tuesday evening.

CLEVELAND – When a hitter leaps five slots up to the top of a lineup card, he tends to adjust his approach.

For Jason Kipnis, the transition from the six-hole to the leadoff slot has paid dividends and paved way to a .500/.571/1.167 slash line (6-for-12) with two runs, two doubles, two home runs, five RBIs and two walks in 14 plate appearances (three games) atop manager Terry Francona's batting order.

Most notably, Kipnis has yet to strike out in his newfound role despite a career-high 22.7% strikeout percentage on the season.  

Although the two-time All-Star second baseman went 1-for-4 on Tuesday, he stroked the ball the other way in all four at-bats, something that Francona is not accustomed to as shown by his 25% opposite-field percentage, a mark that dips below his career-average of 26.2%.

“Like most players, but especially Kip, when he’s driving the ball the other way, that’s a good sign for him,” said Francona.

This assertion comes in light of an up-and-away fastball to Kipnis that resulted in an RBI double off the left field wall. Kipnis’ ability to stay back on the pitch and drive it the other way should not come as much of a surprise given his 2016 and 2017 success on outside pitches in the upper portion of the zone…

2016 season (.275/.343/.469, 23 HRs, 82 RBIs, .811 OPS) - Exit velocity and batting average

2017 season (.203/.238/.316, 2 HRs, 10 RBIs, .555 OPS) - Exit velocity and batting average

The above hot zones proved their point in the third inning against Jake Odorizzi on Tuesday…

Analytics aside, the optimal pitches to hit the ball the other way are usually located on the outside part of the plate, also known as the nitro-zones for Kipnis.

If Kipnis can work the count, keep his strikeout rate at a basement level and continue to shoot balls to the opposite-field, his skill-set fits the mold of a leadoff hitter for the foreseeable future.

John Alfes has covered the Indians for IBI since August of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAlfes for breaking news and in-depth coverage all season long.

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