Kipnis timetable could change complexion of infield

With veteran out at least 4-5 weeks, Tribe considering Ramirez at second

Kipnis timetable could change complexion of infield

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- In sorting through their options for second base, the Indians needed a better understanding of how much time Jason Kipnis would miss with his ongoing right shoulder issue. Cleveland now has a clearer picture as Opening Day approaches.

On Sunday morning, the Indians announced that Kipnis is unlikely to be ready to play in a Major League game for another four to five weeks, meaning he could miss at least a couple weeks in April. Given that timetable, the Tribe is becoming more open-minded about potentially moving third baseman Jose Ramirez to second until Kipnis returns.

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"That's probably his most comfortable position," said Indians manager Terry Francona, referring to playing Ramirez at second. "But he hasn't been over there very much, so we just want to give him some reps there just to keep every option open."

Ramirez started at second base against the D-backs on Sunday, following a start at second against the Rangers on Saturday.

Ramirez's three-run jack

Kipnis met with Dr. Keith Meister on Friday, and it was confirmed that the second baseman is dealing with inflammation in his right (throwing) shoulder. Kipnis was cleared to continue a strengthening program, with the goal of resuming hitting and throwing in about a week.

Earlier this spring, when the Indians were unsure of how much time Kipnis would miss, Francona stressed that the team's preference was to keep Ramirez at third base. If Ramirez is now being considered for second, that shifts how Cleveland's infield could look at the outset of the regular season. Giovanny Urshela, Erik Gonzalez and Richie Shaffer could be temporary possibilities at third.

Of those three, Urshela has the most Major League experience with the Indians, having played 81 games as the team's third baseman in 2015.

"Urshela's in that mix, for sure," Francona said. "It's probably Gold Glove-caliber defense. He's a really aggressive hitter ... as he learns to swing at pitches that he can handle, he'll do more damage, because he's plenty quick. We've all seen him turn on good fastballs, things like that. He can be overly aggressive at times. It's also nice to know that, when the ball's hit down there, you're out. That's a good feeling."

Francona added that Michael Brantley's situation could also have a ripple effect on the roster.

The Indians also announced Sunday that Brantley is scheduled to make his Cactus League debut Monday, and could also play on Wednesday and Thursday, barring a setback. Brantley is currently working his way back from August surgery on his right biceps, which followed right shoulder surgery in November 2015. Brantley played in a pair of Minor League games last week with no issues.

Francona on Brantley's health

"I just want to be careful what I say," Francona said, "because we're starting to get to that point where people are pointing toward Opening Day. I don't want to do that to [Brantley]. This kid has done -- we've been over it 100 times -- he's done everything in his power. And by all accounts, he is feeling really good. So, for me, that's good enough. Wherever it leads, and whenever it leads, as long as he's feeling good, we're probably in pretty good shape."

If Brantley is deemed ready for Opening Day, that would impact the makeup of the outfield, which has Abraham Almonte, Austin Jackson, Shaffer and others vying for roles. That situation would also, in turn, impact the makeup of the bench, which has Gonzalez, Michael Martinez and Ronny Rodriguez jockeying for position in the race for a utility job.

"It's going to be interesting that last week [of Spring Training]," Francona said. "I'm sure we'll be pretty busy, because there's going to be a lot of decisions to be made, and I'm sure that one could affect the next."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.