GOODYEAR, Arizona — Jason Kipnis remembers his first thought after dropping a 45-pound weight on his left ring finger, peeling back the skin so far that bone was exposed.
"I was like, 'That's going to leave a mark,'" Kipnis said.
It wasn't the only scar from 2014 for the Cleveland second baseman.
Shortly after signing a six-year, $52 million contract in April, Kipnis, an All-Star the previous season, suffered an oblique injury that never healed completely. Later, he tweaked a hamstring, an injury that relegated him to some designated hitter duties and didn't help the Indians' playoff push.
Kipnis finished with six homers, 41 RBIs and a .240 average. Nothing went his way.
"Almost kind of like a quicksand effect where the harder you tried to get out of it the deeper you got into it," he said. "I was just fighting myself on a lot of things, and just couldn't find the answer."
Determined to put the season behind him, Kipnis was in the middle of a workout in December when the metal weight slipped from his grasp and smashed his finger. Hand specialist Dr. Thomas Graham had to insert a pin into the finger, which remains slightly curved and somewhat discolored.
"It doesn't bend all the way yet," Kipnis, showing off the damaged digit. "But when I grip a bat it's out here, so it doesn't hurt when I swing."
For the Indians to contend, and perhaps do even better than that in 2015, Kipnis has to be more like his 2013 version. General manager Chris Antonetti identified Kipnis as the position player who must bounce back highest if the Indians are to reach their full potential this season.
"We need Kip to be the player we know he can be," Antonetti said.
Kipnis will make his Cactus League debut on Saturday, when the Indians host the Los Angeles Dodgers. The 28-year-old hasn't been pushing extra hard to get back on the field. In previous years, Kipnis would be eager to get back in the batter's box to put a miserable season behind him.
He's not such a rush any more.
"You know, I'm getting a lot smarter in my old age," Kipnis said. "I'm really not that anxious. I'm anxious to get prepared for opening day of the real season. I'm learning that doesn't mean I have to be in there for opening day of spring training. You're starting to learn how many at-bats you need, what you have to do to get ready. I'm actually not champing at the bit to get out there, I'm champing at the bit to get to full health."
There were days last season when Kipnis probably should have asked manager Terry Francona for some rest. But that's not his nature and he couldn't sit and watch his teammates. Looking back, he doesn't regret trying to push through the pain and play hurt — it's the only way he knew.
"You want to say you wish you would've done things differently," he said. "But I was giving it all I had. I was still busting my butt trying to find a way to get on base, trying to find a way to win games. I can sit here and say I would've loved to do things differently but If I had the chance to do it again I'd probably do things exactly the same."
Maybe not everything.
Following a heartbreaking loss in Detroit, Kipnis got into a heated back-and-forth exchange with a fan on Twitter. Kipnis was frustrated and probably let his emotions get the best of him, but that is what makes him so endearing to his teammates and to Francona, who considered resting his second baseman last season but held off as long as he could.
"I just deeply believe in him," Francona said, adding that a healthy Kipnis can take the Indians to another level. "If we can get him back to where he was, which I don't see why that won't happen, that's another really good player — an impact player that we need, and he knows that.
"He can affect the game so many ways — steal a base, bunt, hit a ball in the gap. There are just so many ways he can help you win."
Kipnis arrived at camp leaner than last season, the result of changing his workout to include more stretching and less training with heavy weights. Along with toning his body, Kipnis has a new perspective on the Indians' odds in 2015.
"The possibilities are there, the potential is there," he said. "Last year we never had more than a seven-game winning streak, never really got hot. We got the same group of guys. We kind of want another chance at this again and we're getting another chance."
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