CLEVELAND -- Niko Lanzarotta was thrilled to have met his favorite Indians player prior to Saturday's game at Progressive Field. Carlos Santana chatted with the young fan during batting practice and gave him a signed bat as a keepsake.
Eight-year-old Lanzarotta -- diagnosed with cerebral palsy at eight months old -- had one more request.
"He said, 'Hey, Carlos, can you get a home run for me?'" Santana said. "I said, 'OK, I promise.' It made him happy."
In the first inning, Santana kept his word.
Cleveland's catcher turned on a 1-1 pitch from Minnesota's Liam Hendriks, sending the baseball through a strong wind for a no-doubter that sailed to the right-field seats. On a day when the weather was turning hard-hit fly balls into outs, Santana's missile of a homer was not going to be denied.
Lanzarotta was at the game with his parents, Mike and Kasia, who are expecting twins later this year. The family enjoyed pregame access to the field when Kasia's boss used Tribe Rewards to secure the experience for the young Indians fan and his family, which lives in Strongsville, Ohio.
The Indians noted that Mike Lanzarotta said his son fell in love with baseball while playing NEO Challenge Baseball in Brecksville, Ohio -- a league open to those with disabilities. Niko became a big Tribe fan, and the Cleveland club has gone a perfect 6-0 in games he has attended.
Of course, Saturday's events took things to a new level.
It turns out that Niko also got to meet Jason Kipnis, who gave him a signed bat, too. Perhaps pushing his luck, Niko also asked the Indians' second baseman if he would hit a home run for him. Kipnis said he would try, and he came through with a two-run shot into the bullpen down the right-field line in the third inning.
"It was an awesome experience," Mike Lanzarotta told the Indians. "It was the best day of his life. To meet Carlos, to be that close, and for him to hit a home run ... to see your kid that happy is a great thing."
Kipnis relieved after busting out of slump
CLEVELAND -- Jason Kipnis chopped a pitch from Twins starter Liam Hendriks through the infield and into center field for a first-inning single on Saturday night. It might have looked like a routine base hit for the Indians' All-Star second baseman.
Kipnis said it was much more than that.
"Oh my God," Kipnis said with a laugh. "I wanted to do like Rickey Henderson. Take the base and hold it up there for a second."
That single in the first inning of Cleveland's 7-2 victory ended Kipnis' 0-for-19 drought in the batter's box, and served as a sigh of relief for the second baseman. Perhaps a bit more relaxed after shaking off the slump, Kipnis turned in a 2-for-3 showing that included a two-run home run in the third inning.
The blast pulled Kipnis into a tie with Carlos Santana for the team lead with 16 home runs, but it was the second baseman's first blast since July 21. Prior to Saturday's performance, Kipnis had also hit just .212 (14-for-66) with no homers and four RBIs over his previous 16 games.
Chalk it up as a cold spell that Kipnis hopes is now in his rear-view mirror.
"It's a long season. You know you're going to go through some ups and downs," said Kipnis. "Welcome to the game of baseball, where you feel great one day and the next day it just snaps off and you don't know how to even hold your hands up at the plate. For me, when I start thinking too much and start thinking during my at-bat, it shows.
"You'll see me take fastballs right down the middle and not even swing at them. And I'm like, 'Why can't I even pull the trigger?' A lot of it's mental. It's kind of clearing your head. You try not to think about it too much. You just want to get back to basics and try to simplify things as much as you can."
Entering Sunday's game against the Twins, Kipnis was hitting .285 with 23 stolen bases, 48 extra-base hits, 67 runs scored and 74 RBIs through 117 games.
Tribe activates Tomlin, sends him to Triple-A
CLEVELAND -- Josh Tomlin's comeback from Tommy John surgery on his right elbow is officially complete. The only step remaining in the pitcher's return from injury is to reach the big league stage again with the Indians.
Cleveland activated Tomlin from the 60-day disabled list on Sunday and optioned him to Triple-A Columbus, where he will finish out the Minor League season in the rotation. Tomlin is a candidate to rejoin the Tribe's pitching staff after baseball's active rosters expand to 40 players on Sept. 1.
Tomlin's activation comes three days after the one-year anniversary of his surgery.
"It's a relief, it really is," Tomlin said via text message. "Obviously, the goal is to get back to the big leagues and compete and try to help that team win games as much as you can. But it does feel good to be off the 60-day [DL] without any hiccups or setbacks to this point. I feel very fortunate in that aspect."
Tomlin went under the knife on Aug. 22 last season, after pitching through discomfort in his throwing arm. In his 21 appearances for Cleveland in 2012, the 28-year-old right-hander went 5-8 with a 6.36 ERA. It was a drastic contrast to his breakout showing in 2011, when Tomlin posted a 12-7 record to go along with a 4.25 ERA in 26 games for the Indians.
Over parts of three Major League campaigns, Tomlin has gone 23-19 with a 4.95 ERA in 59 outings.
In eight Minor League rehab games since returning to the mound, Tomlin has fashioned a 2.08 ERA and a 0.69 WHIP. Across 17 1/3 innings, the right-hander has scattered 12 hits, piled up 12 strikeouts and issued no walks between stops in Rookie ball, Class A, Double-A and Triple-A.
Quote to note
"I think that'd be kind of counterproductive to look at it that way. You'd end up squeezing it too tight, and if you end up scoreboard watching or things like that, that doesn't really help you out too much. Right now, we're still doing a good job of taking it game by game."
--Kipnis, on treating each game like it's a playoff game
• Indians right-hander Corey Kluber, who has been sidelined due to a sprained right middle finger, took the day off from throwing on Sunday. Kluber is scheduled to throw off the mound in a bullpen session during Monday's off-day.
• Beginning Tuesday, the Indians will face a nine-game stretch that includes three opponents (Atlanta, Detroit and Baltimore) with winning records. Starting on Sept. 6, Cleveland's five remaining opponents (Mets, Royals, White Sox, Astros and Twins) have a combined winning percentage of .430. Kansas City is the only club in that group with a record at or above .500.
• Kipnis entered Sunday hitting .426 (23-for-54) with 11 extra-base hits, 20 RBIs and a 1.309 OPS through 14 games against the Twins this season. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Kipnis is tied for the most RBIs by any Major League player against any one opponent this year. Detroit's Miguel Cabrera has 20 RBIs this year against the Indians.
• Indians utility man Ryan Raburn (right calf and left foot discomfort) remained out of the starting lineup on Sunday for the sixth consecutive game. Raburn is hoping to be available by Tuesday or Wednesday, when Cleveland is slated to face left-handed starters in Atlanta.