Aside from a lackluster bullpen group that continues to implode coughing up leads like they have a bad chest cold, there is something else the Indians should consider right now to help right the ship.
The Tribe needs to find a way to get Erik Gonzalez into the lineup at least three or four times per week.
Gonzalez has been excellent despite sporadic playing time. He’s appeared in 20 games with seven starts, but has only 32 plate appearances. He’s also played in only four full games, meaning he’s either lifted for a pinch hitter or he enters the game as a defensive replacement and/or pinch runner.
When he’s had the chance to hit, Gonzalez has been producing. He’s 11-for-30 and is slashing .367/.406/.633 (1.040 OPS) with a home run, triple, and three doubles. He even has a 0.6 WAR despite so little playing time. Of course, an 0-for-4 night would make his numbers dive significantly, but he’s hot right now so why not give him more playing time?
Gonzalez, 26, is entering the prime of his career and he is here to stay in the Majors because he’s out of options. Sending him down to Columbus is no longer an option and isn’t going to happen when the Indians consider their plans for the rest of the season.
There seems to be a reluctance to make a change involving Jason Kipnis who is off to a terrible start to the 2018 season. Look, I’m a fan of Kip and he’s been a team sparkplug throughout his career when the Indians have played well.
But the guy is obviously struggling and his confidence appears shot. Kipnis also has been moved down the batting order from his No. 2 spot. It really hasn’t helped. The hope apparently is he will find his stroke and things will work out just fine.
So far, Kipnis has played in 40 out of 41 games including 38 starts. He’s slashing just .172/.260/.248 in 178 plate appearances and has just one home run in 157 at-bats. His WAR is -0.5. Honestly, that’s just not getting it done.
Strangely, Kipnis is actually hitting better this season against lefties. He’s 11-for-45 with his home run and is slashing .244/.333./400. But against righties, he’s slashing a paltry .143/.230/.188. Perhaps, that might add to any reluctance to convert him to a traditional platoon player for the time being.
Gonzalez’s splits are .357/.438/.643 vs. lefties in 14 plate appearances and .375/.375/.625 vs. righties in 16 plate appearances. Again, the sample size is very small, but he’s been capable from both sides of the plate so far.
He’s made 10 appearances consisting of 43 innings at second base with four starts and playing two full games at the position. He’s seen some time at first base with 16.1 innings in five appearances including one start, and at third base with three appearances and two starts for 19 innings. With Francisco Lindor ahead of him, Gonzalez has made just one appearance at shortstop lasting two innings.
Gonzalez is entering the prime of his career at age 26. He’s never had sustained playing time in three seasons at the MLB level. The Indians made a choice to commit to him when it was either Gonzalez or Giovanney Urshela. So now it is time to see what he can do. Give Kipnis a break because he is struggling more than ever during his career.