Brantley reunites with former club in Houston

April 26th, 2019

HOUSTON -- , who played the first 10 years of his career with the Indians and helped them reach the World Series in 2016, said on Thursday prior to facing the Tribe for the first time in his career that his former franchise will always hold a special place in his heart.

Brantley signed a two-year, $32 million deal with the Astros in December and has made an immediate impact, hitting .315 with five homers and 18 RBIs entering the series opener at Minute Maid Park. He spent some time at batting practice on Thursday exchanging hugs with his former teammates.

“It’s a great group over there with a lot of great talent,” Brantley said. “I look forward to competing against them. They were my teammates for a long time, but when it’s time to play baseball, it’s time to play baseball.”

The Brewers selected Brantley in the seventh round of the 2005 Draft and sent him to Cleveland three years later as the player to be named in the CC Sabathia deal. He became a star with the Indians, making three All-Star teams and anchoring Cleveland’s lineup for a decade.

“They gave me my first chance to play at the Major League level, they helped me through some injuries and they were always supportive of me,” Brantley said. “I appreciate everything they’ve done for me my entire career.”

Indians manager Terry Francona said he has been texting with Brantley in anticipation of this weekend’s matchup.

“I’m like, ‘Man, when you get in that box, I may start crying,’” Francona said. “You know what, I mean, I obviously hope he doesn’t beat us because we’re playing them, but changing uniforms doesn’t take away the affection or the respect that we have had and will have for him. Man, we were so blessed to have him here for as long as we did."

The same qualities that made Brantley so successful in Cleveland -- the preparation and the steady influence -- have stuck out to manager AJ Hinch so far with Houston, too.

“It will be interesting to watch him this series because of the emotions that come with playing your ex-team and a lot of familiar faces and some banter,” Hinch said. “He’s emotional. I know he doesn’t seem like that on the field, but he’ll be a real pro about it.”

Analyzing James' start to season

Hinch said the lack of innings for rookie relief pitcher during Spring Training probably hasn’t done him any favors in the regular season. The hard-throwing James entered Thursday’s series opener against the Indians with a 7.11 ERA in nine appearances.

James, who made his big league debut last September and earned a spot on the postseason roster, threw only 4 1/3 innings in the spring after being sidelined early with a strained quad. He was originally in the mix for a spot in the rotation, but the injury didn’t allow him enough time to get built up to be a starter.

“I don’t want to give him an excuse and he hasn’t made an excuse about anything,” Hinch said. “He hasn’t been that sharp, and some of that can fall on our preparation for him. He didn’t get a lot of outings before the season started, and the game gets going fast.”

James has shown flashes of dominance. He gave up four runs in his first inning on Monday against the Twins, and then came back and struck out the side in his second frame.

“Consistency is something he’s going to have to fight through, both in usage and executing his pitches,” Hinch said. “His delivery is the thing he’s working on the most to try to have a consistent delivery -- the same leg lift, maybe not as high as it’s been in the past -- to get his arm out to where he could throw the pitches where he wants to. He’s got great stuff. His performance has been a little bit hot and cold based on pitch execution.”