CLEVELAND -- The Indians entered this season with high hopes that Jason Kipnis would serve as an offensive catalyst in the heart of their lineup. The second baseman has gotten off to a slow start, but there appear to be signs of life lately.
During Monday's 9-0 rout on the road against the Royals, Kipnis belted a solo home run in his first at-bat, ending a drought of 150 plate appearances without a long ball. The young second baseman had also collected at least one hit in six of his past eight games, entering Tuesday.
"It was just a home run," Kipnis said. "It's just one hit. I wouldn't put too much emphasis on the home runs. I think there's other ways to contribute in the game. That being said, it's always nice to hit one.
"We're getting there. I'd like to string together a little more than that, and hopefully more than one hit in those games. But we're slowly going in the right direction."
On the season, the 26-year-old Kipnis was batting .185 with one home run, three doubles, four RBIs, four stolen bases and five runs scored through 16 games played. While his .242 average in his most recent eight games heading into Tuesday is hardly a breakout showing, it is at least a sign of progress.
Indians manager Terry Francona was optimistic that Kipnis would snap out of his early-season funk soon enough.
"He got a pitch over the plate and drove it for the home run [Monday]," Francona said. "That was good. There's enough of a track record there. I know he doesn't have a ton of time in the big leagues, but you watch. You'll look up in a couple weeks, or three weeks, and his batting average will be where you're normally accustomed to seeing it."
The last time Kipnis' average stood at .280 was June 23 of last season. In the 99 games since that point, the second baseman has hit .228 (86-for-377) with four homers and 39 RBIs. Over the previous 105 games, Kipnis opened his big league career by hitting .277 (115-for-415) with 18 home runs and 60 RBIs.
Kipnis has spent a lot of time lately studying video of his good at-bats from last season in an effort to correct some flaws in his swing and approach.
"We're just looking at last year's videos right now," Kipnis said. "We're looking at last year's hits, what was going right, what was going well. I'm trying to get back to that swing. I'm just trying to shorten down the swing and get quicker to the ball."
Swisher held out of lineup with sore left shoulder
CLEVELAND -- Nick Swisher has willingly shifted between first base and right field to help the Indians' depleted lineup over the past couple of weeks. In the process, the difference in positions has taken a toll on Swisher's throwing arm.
On Tuesday, Indians manager Terry Francona held Swisher out of the starting lineup for Cleveland's game against the Phillies due to soreness in his left shoulder. Francona noted that, considering the Tribe has a scheduled off-day coming Thursday, Swisher might be allowed to rest his ailing arm on Wednesday as well.
That means Swisher could be out until Friday's game against the Twins.
"His left shoulder has been nagging at him a little bit," Francona said on Tuesday. "We've been playing the heck out of him. I told him I'd give him tonight off. ... It wouldn't be a shocker if he doesn't play [Wednesday], either."
Through 23 games this season, the 32-year-old Swisher has split his time between first base (12 games), right field (six games) and designated hitter (five games). Five of Swisher's six starts in right field have come within the past 12 games, while center fielder Michael Bourn has been sidelined with a right index finger injury. Right fielder Drew Stubbs has held down center in Bourn's absence.
Francona noted that Swisher's swing was likely affected by the shoulder soreness as well. The switch-hitting Swisher has posted a .265 average with two home runs, six doubles, nine RBIs and 13 runs this season, but he has only hit at a .160 (4-for-25) clip over his past seven contests.
Francona said the constant movement between right field and first base was the probable cause behind the injury.
"That's why I hesitated at times to do it," Francona said. "It was also a way to get [DH Jason] Giambi in there. Plus, [it helped] with some of the injury things we had going. He always did it. I think, especially as his arm started hurting, it was probably harder for him to do it."
Swisher was not in the clubhouse prior to Tuesday's game, but he did address the issue on Sunday in Kansas City.
"I want to do whatever [Francona] needs me to do, whatever makes this team better," Swisher said. "It's definitely a lot different being at first base than it is out there in right field. At first base, it's easy to make that nice little quick throw. Then you go out to the outfield, you've got to let that thing rip."
Aviles providing Tribe versatility, production off bench
CLEVELAND -- Mike Aviles is not one to pout when his name is not in the Indians' starting lineup. The versatile utility man is simply trying to make the most of the games manager Terry Francona gives him.
Such is the life of a good role player.
"We have a lot of good players in here," Aviles said. "When you think about it, it's Tito's decision to put the best players out there that he feels can give us the best chance to win. Whether that's me today or me tomorrow or me the next day or me in two weeks, it doesn't matter.
"I'm on board with whatever he does and with what everybody else does here. That's how we're going to win games."
On the season, the 32-year-old Aviles -- capable of filling in at second base, shortstop and third base -- has appeared in 14 games, hitting .244 (10-for-41) with two home runs and 11 RBIs. He has hit at a .429 (3-for-7) clip in the five games he has come off the bench and, during Sunday's 10-3 win over the Royals, he went 1-for-4 with a homer and five RBIs.
So far this month, starters such as shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, second baseman Jason Kipnis and center fielder Michael Bourn have missed time due to various ailments. That has opened up some playing time for bench players such as Aviles (41 at-bats, entering Tuesday) and Ryan Raburn (46 at-bats).
"That happens," Francona said of the injuries that have come up. "That's why they're here. I told Mike early in the season, 'You'll get your at-bats.' I just think that's part of what a guy like Mike Aviles can do. When you play him, first of all, you can move him around. And he has the ability to not just hit a single, especially against a left-hander."
Quote to note
"In 2006 at Triple-A, I was in the worst slump of my career. I couldn't hit the ball to the right of second base to save my life. I was looking for anything to get me going, and I started doing it. I hit almost .300 in the second half and was driving the ball to right-center again. So I stuck with it."
-- Aviles, on the bat waggle he uses before swinging
• Bourn (on the 15-day disabled list with a right index finger injury) continued to play catch and hit off a tee on Tuesday. Bourn will head out on a Minor League rehab assignment before being activated by the Indians, but there is still no defined timetable for that step in his comeback.
• Indians right-hander Brett Myers (on the 15-day disabled list with right elbow inflammation) said Tuesday that he is itching to resume throwing again. Myers will reach two weeks of rest on Friday. At that point, the starter will be re-evaluated and might be cleared to begin a gradual throwing program.
• On Tuesday, the Indians named Double-A Akron first baseman Chun Chen the organization's Minor League Player of the Week for the period of April 22-29. During that time period, Chen hit .471 (8-for-17) with three doubles, six RBIs and eight extra-base hits in five games for the Aeros.
• Tuesday's meeting with the Phillies marked the first installment of Interleague Play for the Indians this season. Cleveland went 8-10 against National League opponents last year and is 137-146 (.484 winning percentage) all time in Interleague Play, dating back to 1997.