Brantley activated, delivers 2-run 1B right away
Club options OF Naquin to Triple-A Columbus before home opener
CLEVELAND -- Michael Brantley tossed and turned on Thursday night. The Indians outfielder knew he was going to be activated from the disabled list and immediately slotted into Cleveland's lineup, but the anticipation of the home opener at Progressive Field disrupted his shut-eye.
"I couldn't sleep -- absolutely," Brantley said. "I'm nervous right now speaking to you guys. I've got that nervous energy. It's fun. It's exciting. Playing in front of your home fans is something that you look for. You work all offseason to get to this moment. And to be able to do it and hear the crowd roar when they hear your name, it's special."
Brantley made the home fans cheer even louder in the first inning, when he turned the first pitch of his first at-bat of the year into a two-run single against Royals lefty Danny Duffy. That soft line drive into right field wound up being the decisive blow in Cleveland's 3-2 victory over Kansas City.
Was it worth the sleepless night?
"Absolutely," said Brantley, who flashed a satisfied smile. "We got a win."
Prior to Friday's home opener against the Royals, the Indians made the expected transaction: Brantley was activated from the 10-day DL and outfielder Tyler Naquin was optioned to Triple-A Columbus. Manager Terry Francona gave Brantley the start in left and hit him fifth in Cleveland's batting order.
In the opening frame, Duffy was laboring and unable to locate the strike zone in the cold climate. Eleven of his first 14 pitches went for balls and his third walk of the inning -- a one-out free pass to Edwin Encarnacion -- brought Brantley to the plate with the bases loaded. Normally, a batter might exercise patience with a pitcher suffering through control troubles. Brantley decided to offer at the first pitch, and that decision paid off.
"He didn't scald it," Francona said. "But, he stays on the ball with a runner on third and less than two outs so well that he gets rewarded for hits like that, because he doesn't roll over and hit that ball to second on a double-play ball. He's one of the best I've ever seen at that."
Brantley, who is coming back from October surgery on his right ankle, will have his playing time monitored closely over the next week or so. Francona said it's still "worth having him" even if the plan calls for Brantley to play two out of three games at the start. The left fielder said he intends to meet with Francona and the training staff daily to give feedback and map out a schedule.
"We're going to use common sense," Francona said. "He means so much to what we're doing and, when he's playing, it's a position you don't mess with. You wind him up, let him go and that means you can maybe mix and match in other positions or do some other things because that position is solidified. It's really nice to have him back."
Brantley has been limited to 101 games over the past two seasons due to various health issues. In 2016, right shoulder and biceps woes -- which originated late in the '15 campaign -- limited him to 11 games. Last year, Brantley returned from those injury issues in time for Opening Day, but the right ankle troubles arrived in May and included setbacks in June and again in August.
As opposed to two springs ago, when Brantley's arm injury hindered his ability to hit, he was unrestricted with his hitting activity throughout Spring Training this year. It was the running aspects of his game that were gradually added into his rehab schedule, keeping Brantley out of Cactus League games until late March. Earlier this week, though, Brantley played a pair of nine-inning games in extended spring training in consecutive days and came away fine.
"I was bouncing back and recovering great every day. That was my key," Brantley said. "I feel great right now as we speak, and that is all that matters. One day at a time. I understand that I've been banged up for the last couple years, but at the same time, I'm as focused as ever."
Before the run of injury problems, Brantley was a Silver Slugger Award winner and finished third in American League MVP Award balloting in 2014. Last season, he hit .299 with nine homers, 20 doubles, 52 RBIs and an .801 OPS in 90 games, but his start to the season was impressive enough to earn a spot on the AL All-Star team in voting by his peers.
The Indians hope Brantley is finally beyond the injuries.
"It's great to see him in the clubhouse," Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor said. "It's awesome whenever you see Brantley back in the game. He's somebody who's going to help us a lot. He's proven that he's going to help us. He's a guy that we need. I'm happy for him. Hopefully, he can come back and be how he was."