LAS VEGAS -- While the Indians took on the Cubs on two fronts Saturday afternoon -- both in Arizona and Las Vegas -- Michael Brantley quietly took another step forward. On one of the Minor League fields at Cleveland's complex in Goodyear, Ariz., Brantley launched a home run in his
LAS VEGAS -- While the Indians took on the Cubs on two fronts Saturday afternoon -- both in Arizona and Las Vegas -- Michael Brantley quietly took another step forward. On one of the Minor League fields at Cleveland's complex in Goodyear, Ariz., Brantley launched a home run in his latest game action.
Indians manager Terry Francona noted that Brantley, who is working his way back from surgery on his right ankle in October, had two hits as a designated hitter. It marked Brantley's second Minor League game in the past four days, meaning that the left fielder's Cactus League debut could be coming in the near future.
Francona said Brantley has been good about abiding by the plan mapped out by the Indians' training and medical staff.
"He's been hurt a lot lately. He wants to stay healthy," Francona said on Saturday at Cashman Field in Las Vegas. "So he's handling it better than he may have done a couple years ago. I think he's smart enough to know that our goals are the same."
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Brantley was limited to 90 games last season due to the ankle issue and appeared in just 11 games in 2016 due to right shoulder and biceps issues. While Brantley has not been ruled out as an Opening Day roster option, Francona has been careful to note that the season opener is an "artificial" deadline.
"If he doesn't [return by Opening Day], I don't think it's going to be a whole lot after," Francona said earlier this week.
• Third baseman Jose Ramirez left Saturday's game in Mesa, Ariz., after a collision at third with the Cubs' Thomas La Stella in the fourth inning. Ramirez stole third and was hit on the right ankle by the throw from catcher Taylor Davis. Cleveland announced that Ramirez sustained a contusion and was pulled as a precaution.
• Outfielder Lonnie Chisenhall was scratched from Saturday's lineup against the Cubs in Arizona due to a right calf cramp, per Francona. Chisenhall spent time on the disabled list last year due to a strained right calf, but Francona said the current issue seems to be nothing more than soreness.
• Outfielder Brandon Guyer (left wrist surgery in October) went 3-for-3 in a Minor League game on Saturday, according to Francona.
• Catcher Yan Gomes (right arm soreness) is scheduled to start behind the plate in Sunday's game against the Mariners in Peoria, Ariz.
Plenty of pitchers have been hurt by the hitter-friendly confines of Cashman Field over the years. Lefty Ryan Merritt found out just how much the baseball flies in the 51s' home ballpark on Saturday, when he allowed eight runs on 11 hits, including three home runs, in three innings against the Cubs in an 11-4 Tribe loss. Merritt struck out five and walked none in the effort.
The good news for Merritt: The Indians already know what he's capable of. When it comes time to make a decision on the left-hander, who is out of Minor League options, Cleveland will be focused more on the fit with the roster than his Cactus League pitching line. With no room in the rotation, Merritt is battling for a bullpen job at the moment.
"We would never make a decision based on a start or a relief appearance," Francona said. "That would really be setting yourself up to make some bad decisions. As long as he's healthy and doing what he's doing, we know who he is. It's an idea of the fit and how it complements the rest of your team and things like that."
"When you get ticked off like that, you want every team to lose. I haven't figured out a way to do that. But when other good teams lose, it gave me some sense of satisfaction that I'm not the only miserable person." --Francona, a University of Arizona alum, on whether Virginia's loss to No. 16-seed University of Maryland, Baltimore County in the NCAA men's basketball tournament makes Arizona's early exit easier to handle
Up next: The Indians will have a pair of split-squad games on Sunday. In Las Vegas, Cleveland will continue its Big League Weekend series with the Cubs in a 4:05 p.m. ET tilt at Cashman Field. Tribe righty Stephen Fife will start opposite Cubs lefty Rob Zastryzny. Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis are expected to highlight the lineup in Sin City. Meanwhile, right-hander Mike Clevinger will take the ball against the Mariners in a 4:10 p.m. ET Cactus League clash in Peoria, Ariz. Both games can be viewed on MLB.TV.
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.