After a stellar 2016 season, Jason Kipnis' 2017 is off to a rough start.
The second baseman has been shut down for at least the next four to five days due to a strained right rotator cuff. Kipnis won't throw in the wake of a cortisone shot received Sunday.
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The good news is that Indians manager Terry Francona doesn't think it's anything serious, at least not at this point.
"If it were during the season, we wouldn't do anything," Francona said, "but there's so much time to get ready that to put a Band-Aid on it now didn't seem to make sense."
The Indians will need Kipnis to be healthy and productive if they want a repeat of their run to the World Series. The 29-year-old batted .275/.343/.469 with a career-best 23 homers and 91 runs scored, 82 RBI and 15 stolen bases last season.
Kipnis was on a shoulder strengthening/maintenance program this spring, so the injury is likely not one that popped up in the last few days. Francona said he thinks "from time to time (Kipnis) does feel it."
It's too early to be concerned, especially since Kipnis plays in the American League where, if the Indians choose, he could be hidden at designated hitter if he's unable to throw. It's a situation worth monitoring as Cactus League play goes on, but little more at this stage.
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Angels On The Mend, And The Mound
If the Angels are going to make noise in 2017, the pair of starters who threw Sunday will have to play a big part in it.
Garrett Richards and Tyler Skaggs -- not only two of the team's youngest starters, but also arguably the two best -- pitched to hitters at the Angels' facility Sunday, the first time either pitcher had faced live hitters since last October. The 28-year-old Richards hadn't pitched to hitters since October 13; Skaggs, 25, since getting into a game on October 1.
Richards is working back from a torn ulnar collateral ligament that he chose to treat with a stem cell injection rather than Tommy John surgery. Skaggs did have the surgery, in 2014, and dealt with complications last year while making 10 starts.
“I’m really happy about it,” Skaggs said of the session. “Nothing physically is going to prevent me from taking the ball every fifth day. Mentally, I need to tell myself every time I pitch that today is my day and to go out there and do my thing. It’s all mental. There’s more conviction behind every throw.”
Angels manager Mike Scioscia had praise for Skaggs in particular, saying "his upside, with his stuff, is to be a No. 1 starter.
“I think he knows, at some point, all that potential and upside needs to show up," Scioscia said. "He’s working hard to make that happen this year.”
Richards was off to a great start to the 2016 season, posting a 2.34 ERA through six starts, before the injury to his UCL. That was on the heels of a stretch from 2014 to 2015 in which Richards went 28-16 with a 3.18 ERA in 58 starts.
With Jered Weaver gone, it will be up to Richards, Skaggs and Matt Shoemaker, largely, to carry the load. If they're able, the AL West could once again be anybody's game.
Quick Hits: Josh Hamilton is flying to Houston and is likely to undergo another surgery on his left knee Monday. The procedure is expected to "only" be of the arthroscopic variety, but it will be his fourth on the knee over the last year. The Rangers will continue to give Hamilton a chance to rehab and compete for a roster spot, but he just can't get his body to cooperate anymore. There's a pretty good chance the former MVP has played his last major league game ... Todd Frazier (oblique) will resume hitting on Monday. Frazier tweaked his left oblique a week ago, but it's considered a minor strain and the third baseman is evidently feeling much improved. He's also felt some lingering effects of a sprained finger that he suffered late last season, but that doesn't appear to be an issue anymore ... Zach Britton will play catch Sunday after telling reporters that the discomfort in his oblique is gone. Britton tweaked his oblique early on in spring training but is apparently over it now. The reliever noted Sunday that he wouldn't have appeared in a game yet at this point even if he was healthy, so it's not really a setback as long as he can avoid aggravating the ailment ... Yu Darvish tossed 1 2/3 scoreless frames in his first spring start Sunday versus the Royals. Darvish yielded just one hit, and it was a two-out bunt single in the first inning by Raul Mondesi. He walked two but struck out two in the steady afternoon outing. The 30-year-old right-hander should be ready to return to fantasy-ace status in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery ... Danny Salazar struck out three batters over two scoreless innings in his first start of the spring Sunday versus the Cubs. Salazar walked the first batter he faced, Jason Heyward, and then gave up a single to Eloy Jimenez to lead off the second, but the 27-year-old right-hander was otherwise sharp in his Cactus League debut ... Rich Hill went two hitless innings in his first Cactus League start Sunday versus the Brewers. Hill struck out two -- back-to-back in the second inning -- during his sharp spring debut ... Dustin Pedroia will continue to hit leadoff for the Red Sox. Mookie Betts started last season as Boston's leadoff hitter but was eventually moved down in the order so the Red Sox could better utilize his power. Pedroia made a smooth transition to the leadoff spot, slashing .362/.394/.457 over 199 at-bats. Staying atop the lineup is a win for Pedroia's fantasy owners.