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.”