GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- A handful of Indians players lingered behind the backstop of Field 3 on the Minor League side of the team's complex on Thursday morning, getting a glimpse of Michael Brantley's first game action of Spring Training.Brantley's good friend, pitcher Josh Tomlin, heckled the left fielder after he
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- A handful of Indians players lingered behind the backstop of Field 3 on the Minor League side of the team's complex on Thursday morning, getting a glimpse of Michael Brantley's first game action of Spring Training.
Brantley's good friend, pitcher Josh Tomlin, heckled the left fielder after he fouled off a pitch.
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"I love it," Brantley said with a laugh after playing a handful of innings. "That's only one guy. I've got 30,000 people yelling at me sometimes. So, that's all right. We can deal with that."
During an intrasquad game between Cleveland's Triple-A and Double-A affiliates, Brantley saw 11 pitches in two at-bats and manned left field, where he collected an outfield assist. It marked his first game of the spring, following surgery to repair a labral tear in his right (non-throwing) shoulder in November.
The timing of Brantley's first Cactus League game remains undetermined, considering that Cleveland is still weighing whether its star outfielder will need to open the season on the disabled list. Any Cactus League game played by Brantley after March 25 would push his regular-season return back, since that is the cutoff date for retroactive DL stints.
Given that the Indians initially felt Brantley might be out until late April or some time in May, the fact that Opening Day is not out of the realm of possibility is encouraging for the club.
"He's a tough kid, man," Indians manager Terry Francona said earlier this week. "For him to be where he is is remarkable, and it's only because he wants to so bad."
Following his brief Minor League game appearance, Brantley was asked if he felt that being ready in time for Cleveland's April 4 opener against the Red Sox was realistic with fewer than three weeks left in the preseason.
"Why not?" Brantley said. "I don't see why I would just cut myself any shorter or give myself any extra time if I don't need it. But I'm going to be honest with myself and my teammates and my coaching staff, and do whatever is best for the team."
On Friday, Brantley and the Indians' staff will monitor how his body bounces back, and he will likely take at least one day off from game activity.
During his first at-bat on Thursday, Brantley took the first two pitches he saw, fouled off two more and then grounded out to shortstop against righty Will Roberts. In his second at-bat, Brantley saw six pitches from Minor Leaguer Dace Kime, fouling off another pair before once again grounding out to short.
Brantley also made the most of his lone play in the outfield. In his first inning in the field, Brantley charged and gloved a single to left field off the bat of prospect Mike Papi, who sprinted around first to try to stretch the hit into a double. As he has done so many times at Progressive Field, Brantley came up firing with precision and threw Papi out at second base.
"It's important," Brantley said of having that kind of play come up. "Just getting the reps, getting your legs under you. Baseball activity. You can try all you want to kind of prep for it, but just being in a game situation makes it all real."
One of the final tests for Brantley in his comeback will be a diving play.
On Sept. 22 last season, Brantley made a diving attempt on a ball in Minnesota and landed awkwardly on his right shoulder. That led to the injury that eventually necessitated having Dr. Craig Morgan perform surgery on Brantley's arm on Nov. 9. That kind of play is difficult to simulate, but Brantley said he will not hesitate to make a play when that kind of tests comes up.
"It's going to happen eventually, and I'm not going to hold back," Brantley said. "I'm going to dive. I'm not worried about it. It's part of the game. I'm not going to pull up short, and I'm not going to not dive. It's not in my vocabulary not to do it, and it's not in my mindset not to do it."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast.