The Cleveland Indians were cautiously optimistic for outfielder Michael Brantley’s return to the lineup after nearly an entire season on the sideline because of shoulder issues that plagued him through each of the last two years.
And with Brantley playing in simulated games throughout spring training, the Indians are hopeful the return is coming sooner rather than later.
“I know we’re shooting for opening day,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “Right now, we’re just completely going on what the medical people say, and they talk to Brant every day. When they give him the go-ahead, we’ll gladly write his name in the lineup, but until then, I’m just listening to what they say and asking Brant how he feels.”
Brantley has not played a game at the Major League level since last May because of shoulder issues and subsequent surgery, but the 2014 American League All-Star and Silver Slugger Award winner is working his way back toward the lineup as the team ramps up workouts in spring training.
Last season, Brantley tried to rehabilitate his shoulder injury, something he thought was addressed with offseason surgery in November of 2015. However, every time Brantley went through the progression, he was unable to come through minor league starts without setbacks.
Brantley was officially shut down in August when he had to undergo another surgery.
“I think we’re just trying to do what’s appropriate, what’s fair,” Francona said. “The medical people and Michael are completely driving this. When he gets to a certain point with something, they move onto the next thing and not until.
“It’s all driven by how he feels and how he performs those activities. He’s done a fantastic job, but the goal isn’t to get him back. It’s to get him back and keep him back, so we’re trying to do it in a way that’s mostly fair to him. He’s not short-changing anybody on the work, so we want to try to put him in a position where he can succeed and not ask something that’s unfair.”
In just 11 games with the Indians last season, Brantley registered nine hits over 39 at-bats, including two doubles, with seven runs batted in, five runs scored, three walks and one stolen base. But when healthy, Brantley has shown an ability to be one of the best hitters in baseball.
In 2014, Brantley was the first player in the 114-year history of the Indians’ franchise, and ninth player in MLB annals, to have 200 hits, and at least 45 doubles, 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases in the same season. Brantley was the ninth member of the Indians’ 20-home run, 20-steals club, and the first Cleveland player since 1996 to reach the 200-hit plateau.
During that 2014 season, Brantley finished second in the American League in hits (200), third in batting average (.327) and doubles (45), fourth in on-base percentage (.385), tied for sixth in runs scored (94), seventh in on-base plus slugging percentage (.890), 11th in steals (23) and 12th in RBI (97).
“He’s important to what we’re doing, and even though we got pretty far without him, we don’t want to do that again,” Francona said. “We want him to be a part of everything we do, and the other thing it does is if you have him back, that’s a position you know is taken care of.”
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