CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Indians are in that rarest of positions: It’s early September, but they are already preparing for October. Such is the luxury enjoyed by a team leading its division by 14 games.
The American League Central-leading Indians are 14 games ahead of the second-place Minnesota Twins. So the Indians, who host Kansas City on Monday afternoon at Progressive Field, will use most of this month to prepare for postseason baseball.
The Indians added Josh Donaldson to their active roster. However, Donaldson, acquired from Toronto in a trade Aug. 31, won’t see any action against the Royals, who have won five in a row.
Donaldson is still rehabbing a calf strain. That means Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis, who will become the odd man out in the infield once Donaldson starts playing, remains at second base.
It’s a challenging situation for Kipnis, who made a statement of sorts Saturday, when in his first at-bat after learning he eventually would lose his job to Donaldson, belted a pinch-hit home run.
The 31-year-old Kipnis, a career .268 hitter at the start of this season, has hit in the .220s for most of this year, with career lows in most offensive categories. He’s a two-time All-Star who has spent eight years in Cleveland. But the plan, once Donaldson starts playing, is he takes over at third base, moving Jose Ramirez to second, and Kipnis will compete for playing time in center field with Greg Allen.
“He’ll start taking balls in center field (during batting practice), and at some point we’ll put him out there and see how it looks,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of Kipnis. “He’s a pretty good competitor.”
Indians president Chris Antonetti applauded Ramirez’s unselfishness.
“It’s not often that you see an MVP candidate being asked to change positions during the season, but Jose has been great about it,” Antonetti said.
With Donaldson not yet ready to play, the Indians’ lineup Monday against the Royals will be the one they’ve used most of the season — with Kipnis at second and Ramirez at third.
On the mound for Cleveland will be right-hander Adam Plutko (4-4, 4.94 ERA), who will make his first career appearance against Kansas City. In Plutko’s last start, he received a no-decision in the Indians’ 4-3 loss to the Twins on Aug. 29.
In that game, Plutko pitched 5 1/3 innings, giving up two runs and five hits with five strikeouts and two walks.
Plutko hasn’t won a game since June 24. In six appearances (four starts) since then, he is 0-3 with a 5.27 ERA.
Kansas City’s starter will be right-hander Jakob Junis (7-12, 4.53), who is coming off the first complete game of his career in his last start Aug. 28. In a 6-2 win over Detroit, Junis pitched nine innings while throwing 104 pitches, allowing two runs and six hits, with seven strikeouts and no walks.
Junis’ last start against Cleveland was a 9-3 loss July 2. He pitched 5 1/3 innings, allowing nine runs (eight earned) with eight hits, two strikeouts and one walk.
In two starts against the Indians this year, Junis is 0-2 with a 9.82 ERA. In four career appearances (three starts) vs. Cleveland, he is 0-2 with an 8.05 ERA.
Before Sunday’s game, the Indians activated right-hander Neil Ramirez off the disabled list.