Posted on March 21, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
Cleveland Indians outfielder Michael Brantley made his first appearance of the season in a major league spring training game on Monday. He went 2 for 3 with an RBI in what was a huge milestone in his return from a shoulder injury that limited him to just 11 games last season. Brantley’s presence on a major league field is a signal that he may be able to return to the Indians full time this season as the team defends its American League pennant and makes another run at a World Series title in 2017.
“I am excited,” Indians manager Terry Francona said about Brantley’s appearance on Monday. “He’s worked so hard. I know that playing in a game isn’t the end of the road. I’m excited for him. I’m excited potentially for us.”
Of course, it should be noted that Brantley was also playing in spring training games at this point last year, only to be derailed after the start of the regular season. That memory has Francona trying to downplay Brantley’s return as much as he can, knowing there’s still a long way to go.
“I think we have to temper that this is not the destination,” the Cleveland skipper said Monday. “It is still part of where he’s going. He’s come an awful long way. Everyone around him has kind of been raving about how he looks. He feels good so, heck yeah, we’re excited.”
The fact that Brantley had two hits in his return will only make it harder to temper that excitement, as he showed brief glimpses of being the player who was one of the best left fielders in baseball in 2014 and 2015.
“It was good all the way around,” Francona commented. “He took a couple good swings. He faced a lefty. He had a check swing that didn’t bother him. Things like that. He looked amazingly normal for a guy that hasn’t played very much.”
“Hitting’s hard,” Brantley said after collecting a couple of hits on Monday. “I’m just trying to make it as simple as possible and get the barrel to the ball consistently. The more at-bats I get, hopefully, the better it turns out.”
The next step in the process for Brantley is to play in games on back-to-back days. However, the Indians are off on Tuesday, and so that’ll have to wait until later in the week. Both he and the club continue to take a cautious approach that value his long-term health above anything else.
“It is one day at a time,” Brantley said. “I’m going to talk to (head trainer) James Quinlan tonight and tomorrow morning and we’ll make a decision from there. I was fortunate and blessed enough to be out there with my teammates today. That’s what is most important to me right now.”
If everything checks out with Quinlan, the plan will be for Brantley to play in games on Wednesday and Thursday. If all goes well in those two games, Brantley will have taken several major steps towards getting back to the majors in the span of a week.
At this point, there may not be enough time to get Brantley enough at-bats to be ready for opening day. However, if he can stay on track after making his spring debut on Monday, Brantley appears poised to join the Indians at some point in April, potentially giving Cleveland a huge lift in its quest to get back to the World Series.