Brantley notches 2 hits in return from back stiffness
All-Star outfielder rejoins starting lineup as DH
MINNEAPOLIS -- The Indians had a familiar face back in the heart of their batting order on Friday night. It did not take long for a familiar swing to return as well.
Following a bout with a nagging back issue, All-Star left fielder Michael Brantley returned to the lineup for Cleveland in the opener of a three-game set with the Twins, delivering a pair of hits in a 3-2, 11-inning loss at Target Field. In five plate appearances, Brantley came through with two singles as the Tribe's designated hitter.
"I'm sure he's not in midseason form," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "He hasn't hit in a week -- at least in a game. But, he still finds ways to get hits. His presence in the lineup makes everybody else better, so it's nice to have him back."
Brantley missed six of Cleveland's first eight games with stiffness in his lower back -- a problem that first began in the early part of Spring Training.
"It's been very frustrating," Brantley said. "You never want to miss time. You always want to be out there with your team. I'm just glad to be back today. I'm going to take it one day at a time. That's all I can do."
Francona let Brantley, 27, return to his customary No. 3 spot in the lineup as the DH, and the manager used veteran David Murphy in left field for Friday's game. Francona indicated that Brantley would likely play left field for Saturday's afternoon game in Minnesota, but the manager emphasized that he is trying to be cautious with Cleveland's star player.
"I went in yesterday and watched him work out," Francona said on Friday, "because the last thing I want to do is get so overanxious to write his name in that you make a mistake. He's done a really good job of doing what he's supposed to."
During the first week of Spring Training, Brantley was held out of certain activities due to the back issue, which came up again in the final week of Cactus League games. Brantley played against the Astros on Opening Day on April 6, but then missed the next two games. After rejoining the lineup for the home opener against Detroit on April 10, the back stiffness struck again.
Brantley has undergone a variety of tests and seen a variety of experts, but Cleveland never felt a trip to the disabled list was necessary.
"I've seen a lot of doctors. Too many doctors," Brantley said. "It's just kind of lingered. It's something that I really can't explain, but we're trying to get ahead of it. We know what we have to do to keep it strong, and I'm going to continue to rehab and make sure that we're in there for as many games as possible."
Last season, Brantley hit .327 with 20 home runs, 23 stolen bases, 45 doubles, 94 runs scored, 97 RBIs and 200 hits in 156 games. The breakout showing earned him a Silver Slugger Award and placed him third in voting for the American League's MVP Award.