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Brantley bats in sim game, eager for more

MLB.com @MLBastian

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Michael Brantley tried to imagine he was stepping into the batter's box at a Major League ballpark, where the crowd is in a constant hum and reacting in bursts with every pitch. The only problem is that a Spring Training practice diamond is a far cry from the big league atmosphere.

On Field 2 at the Indians' complex on Wednesday afternoon, Brantley had four at-bats against live pitching in a simulated game, which comes with an environment more akin to golf than the big leagues. There are few fans in attendance, and those watching from the small aluminum bleachers talk in hushed tones. There might as well be someone hoisting a "Quiet Please" sign when the batter prepares to swing.

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GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Michael Brantley tried to imagine he was stepping into the batter's box at a Major League ballpark, where the crowd is in a constant hum and reacting in bursts with every pitch. The only problem is that a Spring Training practice diamond is a far cry from the big league atmosphere.

On Field 2 at the Indians' complex on Wednesday afternoon, Brantley had four at-bats against live pitching in a simulated game, which comes with an environment more akin to golf than the big leagues. There are few fans in attendance, and those watching from the small aluminum bleachers talk in hushed tones. There might as well be someone hoisting a "Quiet Please" sign when the batter prepares to swing.

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"I need to take it professionally," Brantley said. "These at-bats are on a Minor League field, but at the same time, I've got to take the same mentality going into it. Those at-bats mean more to me, because [other] guys get more games in. So any extra at-bats I can get down here on the lower fields, I have to make sure I take them game-like as much as I can, have a plan and a philosophy and try to execute it."

For now, this is as close to getting into a Major League game as Brantley is permitted. The All-Star left fielder -- returning from surgery on his right ankle in October -- has resumed controlled outfield drills and has advanced to agility work on the grass workout field at the team's facility. Brantley has not been cleared for baserunning, so he took his at-bats without running up the first-base line in Wednesday's game.

Brantley had a pair of hits -- both pulled into right field -- in his four plate appearances.

While this is the third consecutive spring in which Brantley has been returning from an injury, Indians manager Terry Francona noted that the positive part of this year is the outfielder's level of hitting activity. In the past two springs, Brantley's ailing right shoulder led to a slow, gradual hitting progression. This time around, Brantley has been unrestricted with his hitting and has been putting in hours in the batting cage.

"He's doing really well," Francona said. "This time, he's been able to hit the entire time, so when you ramp up, it's not like he's going to be playing catch-up, as far as physically, with his hitting. He's been hitting a ton. He's getting antsy. He's in a good spot."

Brantley, 30, had a $12 million option picked up by the Indians this past winter, even after appearing in only 90 games due to an ankle injury last season. In those games, he posted a .299/.357/.444 slash line with nine home runs, 20 doubles and 52 RBIs. Brantley made the Opening Day roster a year ago and then was voted onto the American League All-Star team by his peers.

His campaign was one of the better comeback stories in baseball until the ankle injury cost him most of the second half. Now, Brantley is again trying to defy the odds and be ready to return for Opening Day.

"I wish I wasn't so experienced in it," Brantley said. "But, at the same time, I learn from it every time. I want to make sure that I'm paying attention to my body, making sure that I'm doing the right things, but also pushing myself a little bit to see where I'm at."

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.

Cleveland Indians, Michael Brantley