CLEVELAND -- Michael Brantley knows better than to declare Opening Day as his target date for return. After what the Indians left fielder went through last season, he will keep his goals quiet, focusing more on the daily milestones that will hopefully bring his aspirations to fruition.On Friday, when a
CLEVELAND -- Michael Brantley knows better than to declare Opening Day as his target date for return. After what the Indians left fielder went through last season, he will keep his goals quiet, focusing more on the daily milestones that will hopefully bring his aspirations to fruition.
On Friday, when a large portion of the Indians' roster was in Cleveland on the eve of Tribe Fest, Brantley spoke with reporters for the first time since the postseason. Brantley is currently hitting off a tee in his comeback from shoulder and biceps issues, and he is hopeful that he will be at the same stage as the rest of the Tribe's batters when position players report to Spring Training in roughly two weeks.
Opening Day is indeed the goal -- the Indians have made that known -- but Brantley has learned to avoid artificial deadlines.
"I won't say a target," Brantley said. "All I know is I'm healthy right now and I've got a progression to go through. Once I get through that, I'll be ready to rock and roll."
Brantley underwent biceps tenodesis surgery on Aug. 15 and has progressed to the point where he is working through multiple tee sessions each day. Assistant hitting coach Matt Quatraro described Brantley's swings as "encouraging" after monitoring some of the workouts this week. A year ago, when Brantley was coming back from right shoulder surgery, the outfielder did not resume hitting off a tee until around Feb. 21.
While Brantley is roughly a month off last year's pace, the Indians have taken a cautiously optimistic approach to questions about his comeback. Part of the reason is that Brantley breezed through the early portion of a hitting progression multiple times last year. It was not until he appeared in multiple games in a row that the arm issue flared and stalled his progress.
The Indians are hoping to avoid a similar chain of events this year.
"If work ethic and diligence means something, he'll be an All-Star," Indians manager Terry Francona said on Friday. "It's been well-documented that when he got into games, that's when he ran into trouble. But, I think he feels he's making great progress. You've just got to let it play itself out.
"There's a program in place -- he follows it to a T. And, hopefully, as he gets into games, we won't run into that last hurdle. That would be wonderful for us. We miss him more than people realize."
Having a healthy Brantley back in the lineup could be a significant lift for the American League-champion Tribe, which also signed free-agent slugger Edwin Encarnacion over the offseason. Brantley smiled wide when asked how he reacted to the news that Cleveland had added Encarnacion.
"I was excited," Brantley said. "I had like six or seven texts that came in before I even saw it on TV. Of course, I had to turn on the TV and clarify and make sure if it was true. Everybody was very excited. My teammates were calling [the front-office leaders] and making sure it was real. It was awesome to hear."
During Friday's interview session, Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor said he could not wait to see Encarnacion "protecting Brantley in the lineup."
Last season, Brantley set Opening Day as his target during the spring and made it back from the disabled list by April 25. After appearing in 11 games, Brantley experienced a setback and landed back on the shelf May 14. What followed were multiple consultations with a variety of specialists, leading to the eventual diagnosis of chronic biceps tendinitis. Dr. Keith Meister and Dr. Mark Schickendantz then performed the season-ending procedure in August.
Brantley was asked if he would do anything differently, knowing how last season turned out for him.
"Of course I've thought about it, but absolutely not," Brantley said. "I did everything in my power to get back: Strengthening-wise, medical-wise, anything I could do. It just didn't work out. It's something that I learned from and I'll only get better for it, and it'll only make me hungrier to get back out there. I can't wait to do it."
Francona said the team did everything it could throughout the process, too.
"We did the process exactly like we were asked to do," Francona said. "Every time we get him into games, something would flare up on him. He never skipped a step. He passed all his milestones. He just ran into problems when he'd get into a game. It confounded us a lot. I don't know what else we could have done differently. Our medical people spent so much time trying to think, 'What is the right thing with Michael?'"
Now, Brantley believes the right thing to do is to keep his focus limited to the task immediately in front of him.
"Spring Training is still a couple weeks away for us to even report," Brantley said. "So, I've got to make sure the next week goes well, the week after that, and then we'll make a decision from there. I can't say anything for another at least a couple weeks."
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.