Brantley giving his all through back issues
CINCINNATI -- The hope each year is that the All-Star break helps alleviate some of the midseason fatigue that can set in for players. In the case of Cleveland's Michael Brantley, the Indians are also hoping the time off helped in the way of health.
Brantley has fought through a back issue that first flared in Spring Training, and he remained on the field and in the middle of the Tribe's lineup for all but a handful of games this year. During Friday's 6-1 loss to the Reds, the outfielder collected a pair of doubles, creating some optimism that the annual break did some good.
"That's the idea," Indians manager Terry Francona said on Saturday. "You could see it last night. His bat looked like it had some life to it. That was good to see."
This is not to say that Brantley has been struggling this season. In fact, the .295/.369/.429 slash line that he had posted through 80 games was more than respectable. It is just a slight drop-off from his breakout, Silver Slugger-winning showing last season, when he hit .327/.385/.506 with 20 homers, 45 doubles, 94 runs and 97 RBIs for Cleveland.
Even with the three-run home run he belted in the first inning of Saturday's 9-4 win over the Reds, Brantley's slugging percentage has been noticeably down from a year ago, and he has only six home runs on the season. It is possible that the back issue is at least partially to blame for the power reduction, but Francona said the outfielder is not one for excuses.
"I don't want [to talk about his back], because I don't think he wants to get into it," Francona said. "But he goes out there every day regardless of how he's feeling, and he finds a way to compete. Whatever percent he's at, he gives you every bit of that. If his slugging is down, I get it, but I also see what he does, and I know when there's a runner in scoring position, we like when he's up."
Francona values having that kind of leader in his lineup.
"It's immeasurable," Francona said. "It makes your job a lot more fun, a lot more rewarding."