Posted on February 28, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
It’s been a long road back for Cleveland Indians left fielder Michael Brantley, who missed most of 2016 after a setback following shoulder surgery, only to require another surgery on his biceps last August. But despite reports that those within the organization are concerned about him, Brantley remains on track to return at some point in 2017. On Monday, Brantley took batting practice at the team’s spring training complex in Arizona, a major milestone in his recovery and an event that confirms his road to recovery is progressing as hoped.
Other than playing in games, Brantley is more or less on a normal spring training schedule, which is obviously a promising sign. He’s taking more than 100 swings every day, in addition to participating in outfield drills.
“It’s great just to kind of go through a normal day,” Brantley said Monday. “I got to do everything with the team today. Taking BP on the field, there’s always some butterflies, some first-time jitters, excitement to be back on the field with everybody. It all went well.”
During batting practice, Brantley declined to look where any of the balls he hit were landing. Instead, he just wanted to stay focused as he eases back into normal baseball activities.
“I didn’t look. I tried not to look,” Brantley said, smiling. “One thing that I can do is get too excited, and swing too hard, so I just wanted to stay under control today.”
During his recovery from shoulder surgery last spring, Brantley didn’t take batting practice until the second week of March, so he’s ahead of that schedule. Of course, after all the setbacks Brantley suffered last year, the Indians aren’t likely to push him. The next step for Brantley is to face live pitching, but there’s still no schedule set for when he’ll reach that point.
“He’s had a build-up through his entire rehab process and hit every check mark along the way,” says Indians GM Mike Chernoff. “The next big hurdle for him is when he starts to see live pitching. He’s got to get through a couple more things first before he does that. The first day out on the field looked great, but that will be the big hurdle for him once he hits that.”
Fortunately, Brantley understands the need for patience, as he has no doubt learned from last season when his shoulder forced him back to the DL after just 11 games.
“With anything, it’s going to take time,” Brantley said. “As soon as you get back on the field, it’s a different atmosphere. Youre going to have to get some reps under your belt. I just look forward to being back out there pain-free with my teammates. Day 1 of BP, I’m happy with it, and we’ll go from there.”
Obviously, the Indians were fine last season without Brantley, as they managed to win the American League pennant without him. Cleveland should once again have enough depth to survive without him if they have to. However, if the Brantley the Indians had in 2014 and 2015 returns to their lineup, he will be a game-changer, making him an important piece of the puzzle, as Cleveland strives to win just one more game than it did last postseason.
Brantley is still a long way from returning to the lineup on an every day basis, and there’s still no timeframe for his return to the lineup or a guarantee that he’ll avoid another setback. But after taking batting practice on Monday, he’s one step closer to getting back on the field full time and helping the Indians win the World Series in 2017.