GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Michael Brantley is not just Jason Kipnis' teammate, but one of his closest friends. Publicly, Brantley is a master at concealing his emotions and putting a positive face on a comeback that has spanned 18 months. Kipnis has seen Brantley behind the scenes, and understands how difficult
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Michael Brantley is not just Jason Kipnis' teammate, but one of his closest friends. Publicly, Brantley is a master at concealing his emotions and putting a positive face on a comeback that has spanned 18 months. Kipnis has seen Brantley behind the scenes, and understands how difficult things have been for the outfielder.
This offseason, Brantley remained in Cleveland to focus on his rehab from the right biceps tenodesis surgery he underwent in August. In December, after attending a wedding in Ohio, Kipnis made the drive to Progressive Field to spend some time with his friend.
"He's had to fight that thought that this injury can win," Kipnis said.
This spring, Brantley has shoved that kind of thinking to the side. The left fielder is in the batting tunnel each morning, advancing through a hitting program that currently consists of soft toss. Brantley stepped into the box on Field 1 on Monday, tracking pitches in a live batting-practice session for pitcher Joseph Colon. Brantley has taken part in outfield drills and everything else that does not require hitting a ball with maximum effort.
That step will come, though the Indians are not placing a public timeline on Brantley's latest attempt at returning to the lineup. The uncertainty surrounding his status has cast a cloud over the sun-splashed diamonds at the Tribe's complex. Until there is a better grip on how close Brantley is to being at full strength, the Indians will not have firm decisions on the makeup of their outfield or bench for Opening Day.
"I think you have to start every outfield conversation with: 'Is Brantley healthy?'" Indians manager Terry Francona said. "Because, that changes a lot."
When healthy, Brantley has been one of the best players in the game.
In 2014, Brantley hit .327 with 20 homers, 23 steals, 45 doubles and 200 hits in 156 games, picking up a Silver Slugger Award and finishing third in balloting for the American League Most Valuable Player Award. One year later, he hit .310 with 15 homers and a league-high 45 doubles. In September of the '15 campaign, though, Brantley injured his arm on a diving attempt in Minnesota, leading to right shoulder surgery that November.
Last spring, Brantley set Opening Day as his goal, but was not activated until April 25. The left fielder hit .231 in 11 games before fatigue set in and ultimately ended his season. Throughout the summer, Brantley saw a variety of specialists, tried to come back multiple times and endured a series of setbacks. He was eventually diagnosed with chronic biceps tendinitis, leading to the most recent operation.
"His challenge right now is a little bit different than some of these other guys," Francona said. "They're ramping up for the season. He's got a couple hurdles before he does that. But, he's attacking it just like he attacks everything else."
Brantley is optimistic that the Indians' medical team, and his doctors, finally got to the root of the problem.
"I hope so," Brantley said. "I wouldn't be standing here in front of you if we didn't have a good game plan going forward. I'm very excited, like I've said before, where I'm at right now. I know I said it last year. I'm stronger than I was last year. A lot of things are looking positive. It's a week-to-week basis, but things are going on the right foot so far."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.