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Michael Brantley showing no signs of rust in 2017

Despite spending most of last season rehabbing his right shoulder, Michael Brantley is back to being the player he was in 2014, an All-Star season in which he finished third in MVP voting.

CLEVELAND – Adjustment periods can vary based on the degree of an injury and duration of time away from the baseball diamond.

Not for Michael Brantley.

The one-time All-Star has executed a seamless return to the big leagues, a remarkable achievement given his small sample size of 11 games in 2016.

“It’s so nice that you just put him in the three-hole, put him in left field and play the game,” said manager Terry Francona. “When you hit it to left, you’re out. [His throws] go where [they are] supposed to and he gives you a great at-bat, whether it’s a right-hander or a left-hander and he’s a great kid.”

Brantley is slashing .291/.363/.461 (41-for-141) with 19 runs, nine doubles and five home runs in 37 games played this season. After sitting out for 330 days, the 30-year-old veteran has finally made it back to major league action and shoved his gruelingly long rehab in the rearview mirror.

“I mean it’s wonderful having him back and I think he’s having a lot of fun,” Francona said. “I think he found that he missed playing a lot.”

While Brantley is hitting .189 (7-for-37) with runners in scoring position, it is worth noting the way in which hurlers have attacked him each at-bat in 2017 – 54.7% fastballs (career-low), 15.8% sliders (career-high) and 11.6% curveballs (career-high).

In other words, the left fielder has earned the respect of opposing pitchers and gotten a deeper look at each of their respective repertoires, especially in run-scoring opportunities. Francona sees a consistent approach from Brantley and views him as a positive influence in the Tribe clubhouse.

“I don’t think Michael has changed at all,” said Francona. “I think the normal progression of becoming more of a veteran (has helped), because I don’t know that somebody just takes that step. When they do, I’ve seen guys try to do it and it doesn’t necessarily always resonate in there real well. But I think the natural progression of one, the way a guy plays – cause that’s first and foremost – and then how you act, how you carry yourself and then how you’re able to deliver a message to one of your guys that you really care about.”

On and off the field, Brantley has quickly regained the form that made him a franchise favorite. Not only is his presence in Cleveland a welcoming sight, but his projected improvement in clutch situations over the course of the campaign will be key for a club with playoff aspirations.

“I think Michael has all those qualities and you see him continue to grow as he gains service time,” Francona said. “I think it’s a good progression for him.”

John Alfes has covered the Indians for IBI since August of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAlfes for breaking news and in-depth coverage all season long.


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