Brantley returning to All-Star form after back injury
Outfielder on hot streak since missing games earlier this season
DETROIT -- While the Indians are still trying to get their offense firing on all cylinders, a source of consistency has returned to the heart of the lineup.
All-Star Michael Brantley churned out four hits in Saturday's 4-1 loss to the Tigers, providing more hope that the left fielder is getting over the lower-back issue that sidelined him for six of the first eight games this season. Brantley might not yet be back to full strength, but he has recovered enough to produce again for Cleveland's laboring lineup.
"His back's probably not perfect," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "But I don't think it's getting in the way right now."
In the defeat against Detroit, Brantley singled and stole second base in the first inning against Tigers righty Alfredo Simon. In the third, Brantley delivered an RBI single, plating Jason Kipnis for Cleveland's lone run on the afternoon. Brantley then added a double in each of the sixth and eighth innings, but those extra-base hits went for naught.
Since returning to the lineup on a regular basis on April 17, all Brantley has done is hit at a .419 (13-for-31) clip with 10 singles, three doubles, two runs scored, two walks, one stolen base and five RBIs in eight games. During that time period, Brantley has boosted his season average to .359 from .125 (1-for-8 showing in his first two games).
"It feels good," Brantley said. "You always want to contribute and do the best that you can for your team each and every day. I'll continue to work hard and keep pushing the guys like they are pushing me and we're going to be fine."
Brantley was asked if he expects the back issue to be a season-long problem.
"I hope not," he said. "We'll take it day by day. We have a great medical staff with a great game plan. The only thing I care about is being out there with my teammates."
Saturday's showing marked Brantley's ninth career four-hit game, tying a career high. He had a pair of four-hit games last season, when he hit .327 with 20 homers, 45 doubles, 97 RBIs, 23 stolen bases, 94 runs and 200 hits in 156 games. That showing earned Brantley his first All-Star appearance, a Silver Slugger Award and a third-place finish in American League MVP voting.
"He's a good hitter," Francona said, "and he's starting to feel good, which is great for us."