CLEVELAND — On his way out to the field for pregame batting practice, Jason Kipnis hung a hard right in the Indians’ clubhouse to give Jason Giambi a big hug.
“Great to see you,” Kipnis told Cleveland’s respected designated hitter.
“You, too, little brother,” Giambi said.
Big ‘G’ is back with the Indians. Almost.
Sidelined since spring training by a fractured rib, Giambi has been cleared to play and is scheduled to be activated from the disabled list Monday, when the Indians open a four-game series with the Kansas City Royals.
The 43-year-old recently played in several games in a minor league injury rehabilitation assignment at Double-A Akron, a stop that helped his swing and also brought back memories of his path to the big leagues.
“Sometimes you forget the grind,” Giambi said. “It’s been 20 years since I was a minor leaguer.”
While he was with the Aeros, Giambi and teammate Michael Bourn, who was with him to rehab a strained hamstring, treated the minor leaguers to several meals and found themselves serving up advice to some of the youngsters in Cleveland’s system.
It comes naturally to Giambi, who is still playing but may one day try his hand at managing. He was a finalist for Colorado’s opening before signing with the Indians before last season.
“I’d like to, but the universe will determine that, not me,” Giambi said with a laugh at his locker. “I love the nuances of the game and being a part of that. I’ve played for some of the greatest managers in the game, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre and Tito (Terry Francona) and Jim Tracy.”
Giambi said he’s ready to play, but the Indians will wait until after the weekend. Giambi took batting practice before Friday’s series opener against Toronto and looked to be himself while launching several home runs into the right-field seats.
The Indians have opened 7-8 without Giambi, and Francona said his presence has been missed inside the clubhouse, dugout and on the field.
“Guys know he’s there,” Francona said. “Shoot, I know he’s there. Because ‘G’ is never going to back down from anybody and that doesn’t mean you have to fight or anything. But it’s a nice teammates to have around. He can be a settling influence. He can kick somebody in the pants. He’s a great guy to have around.
“Believe me, I wouldn’t say all these things if they weren’t true. This is how I feel.”
Giambi injured his rib during spring training and was placed on the DL on March 30. While he batted just .183 last season, he hit nine homers and drove in 31 runs in 186 at-bats. Giambi also provided perhaps the season’s signature moment, when he belted a pinch-hit homer in the 10th inning to beat Chicago on Sept. 24.
The homer helped propel the Indians to their first playoff appearance since 2007.
While some fans look only at Giambi’s statistics and wonder why the Indians would dedicate a roster spot to an aging, situational hitter, Francona says Giambi’s impact goes way beyond numbers.
’’’G’ can change the game in the batter’s box,” Francona said. “He’s not here to hit .300, that would be great. But he’s here to change the game with one of his swings and he has the ability to do that.”