GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Michael Brantley has passed every test the Indians' medical staff has given him this spring. The All-Star outfielder has put in the extra hours in the training room, weight room and batting cage, and has resumed playing in games. Brantley is closing in on being ready to
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Michael Brantley has passed every test the Indians' medical staff has given him this spring. The All-Star outfielder has put in the extra hours in the training room, weight room and batting cage, and has resumed playing in games. Brantley is closing in on being ready to assume his place in left field again for Cleveland.
Brantley is just not yet ready to handle the full workload of a starter, according to manager Terry Francona. On Sunday, even with the veteran outfielder in the starting lineup for the Tribe's 6-4 win over the Reds, Francona announced that Brantley would begin the regular season on the disabled list due to his ongoing comeback from right ankle surgery in October.
There is a long season ahead, and Cleveland wants to ensure that Brantley is completely ready before being activated.
"He's doing great," Francona said. "I just think, after we put our heads together, it would be good for him [to start on the DL]. He's just not quite ready maybe to carry enough of the load. There's no setback or anything like that. It's just [the decision we made] after putting our heads together, and I give him a lot of credit for his honesty."
The news about Brantley (2-for-3 with an RBI on Sunday) means that outfielder Tyler Naquin, who was the third-place finisher in American League Rookie of the Year Award voting two years ago, will be a part of the Indians' Opening Day roster. Naquin will get opportunities in left field, with Bradley Zimmer manning center and Lonnie Chisenhall in right. Veteran Rajai Davis, a non-roster invitee, will also be added to the active roster before the Tribe's opener against the Mariners on Thursday.
Sunday's start marked Brantley's third Cactus League game in the past five days, and the outfielder also has some simulated and Minor League games under his belt this spring. In his official spring debut on Wednesday night, Brantley launched a home run in his first trip to the plate against the Royals. It was evidence that Brantley's swing is not an issue right now for the left fielder.
Unlike the past two springs, when Brantley was dealing with right shoulder and biceps issues, he has been unrestricted with his hitting throughout this preseason.
"It's a huge advantage," Brantley said after his Cactus League debut. "Timing is everything when it comes to hitting. Being able to have the repetition, taking quality swings in the cage and hitting BP regularly, I'm ahead of where I was last year because of the shoulder. I was hitting pain-free when I got here. It was a big advantage for me."
What has held Brantley back is the various running elements. This spring, the Indians gradually worked in agility training, sprinting, baserunning and outfield-specific movements. Brantley has looked fine in left field in the handful of innings he has logged, but he's still building up endurance. Francona said that during upcoming Minor League games, Brantley will treat it like a normal game rather than hitting every inning (which is allowed in that setting for rehabbing players).
"We're going to try to space that out where it mirrors a Major League game," Francona said, "so his times of inactivity are the same as when he's in a Major League game."
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What the Indians are hoping to avoid is any unnecessary setbacks for Brantley. Two years ago, Brantley's comeback started and stalled multiple times, and he wound up appearing in only 11 games for Cleveland. Last season, he made it back in time for Opening Day, played well enough to make the AL All-Star team, but was hindered in the second half by the ankle injury. Overall last year, Brantley hit .299 with nine homers, 20 doubles, 52 RBIs, 47 runs and an .801 OPS in 90 games.
Francona emphasized that Brantley does not appear to be that far away from returning.
"He's going to be ready when he's ready," Francona said. "[He's] close enough where we certainly talked about him making the ballclub. But it made sense to let him have some more time playing."
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 Facebook.