OAKLAND -- A slump out of the gates can toy with the state of mind of the most experienced of hitters. But it can sometimes do even more damage to a young player's confidence. Frustration sets in and doubt follows behind.
Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis knows the feeling.
"You'll get frustrated that the results aren't there," Kipnis said. "You're like, 'Am I doing things wrong?'"
Kipnis found the swing that had been missing in action this season on Saturday night, using a four-hit performance to lead the Indians to a 5-1 victory over the A's at the Coliseum. It was one of the better showings of his young career, and it went a long way in offering support to a solid start by right-hander Jeanmar Gomez.
The combined effort helped the Tribe capture victory in its third consecutive road series to open this season -- a feat accomplished by the club for the first time since 1988. With one game remaining on this three-city tour of Kansas City, Seattle and Oakland, Cleveland has a 7-1 record and its confidence soaring.
"This team is rolling right now," Kipnis said. "This team is getting used to winning. That's how it needs to be. You have to expect to win every time you go out -- and this team has a lot of confidence right now."
Having Kipnis going again offensively would do even more for the team's morale.
Heading into Saturday's game, the 25-year-old second baseman was mired in an 0-for-10 slump -- with his season average sitting at .167. Over his previous five games, Kipnis had only a 3-for-20 showing for the Indians (8-5), who have entrusted him with the starting second-base job after he played just 36 games in the big leagues last season.
Indians manager Manny Acta was not too worried about Kipnis possibly losing sight of his usual approach at the plate.
"It always kind of affects those [young] guys," Acta said of early-season struggles. "But, he's got that makeup. He's never been intimidated up here, or has pressed or anything like that. He gets after it. We just make sure that we ensure him that, 'Hey you're not here on a tryout basis. You're our second baseman. Keep going about your business and things are going to change.'"
Things changed in a hurry against Oakland (7-9).
In the first inning, Kipnis delivered a one-out single off A's right-hander Brandon McCarthy (0-3) and later crossed the plate on a run-scoring groundout by Travis Hafner. Kipnis later added an RBI single to score Jason Donald in the sixth inning, pushing the Indians to a 2-0 advantage. McCarthy took the loss after yielding two runs on 10 hits over seven innings.
Two runs proved to be sufficient support for Gomez (1-0), who dodged some early traffic with a handful of escape acts before setting down 11 Oakland hitters in a row between the second and fifth innings. That streak ended in the sixth, when A's shortstop Cliff Pennington led off with a double down the right-field line. Gomez was later pulled with one out and Pennington on third base in the inning.
"We were worried a little bit about his stamina and pitch count," said Acta, who turned to reliever Dan Wheeler when Gomez reached 88 pitches. "This guy hadn't thrown more than two innings since like the third week of March. But, he got better as the game went on. He didn't have his best stuff, but he did battle."
Due to a rainout on April 10, Cleveland sidestepped Gomez's spot in the rotation and used him out of the bullpen for two innings on April 11. The right-hander started against the Royals on April 14, but was ejected from the ballgame in the third inning after he hit Kansas City's Mike Moustakas with a pitch -- a half-inning after the Tribe's Shin-Soo Choo was hit by Jonathan Sanchez.
Gomez received a five-game suspension from Major League Baseball and initially appealed the punishment. Following his outing in Oakland, however, Gomez dropped his appeal and will serve the suspension this week. Due to an off-day on Monday, the Indians will not need a replacement starter for Gomez, who will make his next appearance on April 28 against the Angels.
Against Oakland, Gomez was charged with one run on four hits over 5 1/3 innings. The one run came courtesy of Yoenis Cespedes' sacrifice fly off Wheeler following Gomez's exit in the sixth inning. That trimmed the Tribe's lead to 2-1, making the addition of some insurance runs an important goal for Cleveland.
With runners on first and second base in the eighth inning, Kipnis pulled an offering from A's lefty Brian Fuentes to the warning track in right field. Outfielder Josh Reddick made a leaping attempt at the wall, but the ball dropped to the ground, rolled away and opened the door for a two-run triple by Kipnis.
"That was the biggest blow of the game," Acta said.
Kipnis, who then scored on a wild pitch, thought Reddick was going to catch the ball.
"I was hoping it got a little farther," Kipnis said with a grin. "Once I saw him jump up and [put] his hand back, I thought he was going to catch it. I was hoping it was out of his reach, and it looked like it kind of just went to the left of his glove. I got lucky."
Maybe, but luck does not usually produce a 4-for-5 performance.
It marked Kipnis' best showing on the big league stage since his 5-for-5 outburst against the Tigers on Aug. 10 of last season. His three RBIs against the A's equaled a career best, which was also achieved on that breakout day against Detroit.
Acta figured it was only a matter of time before Kipnis had that kind of night again.
"You just have to keep on going and battling," Acta said. "Today, he showed how important he can be to our offense and why we feel we have a better offense than last year. I think this kid is going to be very good offensively."