CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – Cleveland Indians outfielder Michael Brantley, in his attempted return from offseason shoulder surgery, set his sights on being ready for Opening Day in 2016.
After flying through his rehabilitation in Spring Training, Brantley eventually fell a little behind schedule thanks to a number of frustrating roadblocks. And then his dream of returning in a timely fashion seemingly became a never-ending nightmare.
This year, the Indians’ talented left fielder is taking a different approach. He isn’t using any artificial deadlines to push himself in his rehab from a second surgery.
Instead, Brantley just wants to focus on his health and handling his progression as diligently as possible. If that means taking it a bit slower, he is prepared to do what is necessary in order to avoid another lost season.
“I won’t say a target [date], Brantley said prior to this weekend’s TribeFest event. “I won’t say [anything]. All I know is I’m healthy right now and I’ve got a progression to go through. Once I get through that, I’ll be ready to rock and roll.”
All cliches aside, Brantley will head into Spring Training nearly one month ahead of last year’s schedule, a timeline that has the left-handed hitter currently hitting off a tee in his hitting progressions as he attempts to return from biceps tenodesis surgery.
The second procedure become necessary last season after multiple failed attempts to return from his original surgery on his right shoulder, an issue that plagued him throughout the campaign and limited Cleveland’s most consistent offensive player to just 11 games in 2016.
So here he is, back again.
Brantley has been forced to deal with these sorts of questions before, but the answers will likely not come until he gets far enough along in rehabilitation to play in multiple games this spring, allowing him to test out his shoulder in ways it would not respond last season.
For now, his biggest goal at the moment is to enter camp in a few weeks at a place similar to the team’s other hitters.
“It’s one step at a time,” Brantley said. “I’m not looking too far ahead. I want to make sure I stay on course and do everything I can the right way to get back as soon as possible.”
So far, so good for Brantley, who is taking 40-50 swings in succession three times a day and has not had any setbacks in his recovery.
Of course, even that excitement needs to be tempered to an extent. The team has taken a wait-and-see approach with Brantley’s recovery, hoping for the best and preparing for any bumps along the way. However, none of the club’s potential reservations about Brantley returning to form has anything to do with his work ethic.
Shoulders can just be a tricky thing to predict.
“I think he feels he’s making good progress,” manager Terry Francona said. “You just have to let it play itself out. There’s a program in place, he follows it to a T, and hopefully, as he gets into games, we won’t run into that hurdle.
“That would be wonderful for us. We miss him more than people realize.”
Surprisingly, it was easy to forget Brantley’s absence at times during Cleveland’s terrific 2016 campaign, a season which ended one win shy of a World Series championship.
The Indians’ offense shockingly overcame the lack of the All-Star left fielder, scoring the second-most runs in the American League last season.
The Tribe then made their lineup even better this offseason, landing slugger Edwin Encarnacion on a three-year, $60 million free-agent deal. However, Brantley’s return would certainly help fortify Cleveland’s standing as a favorite to once again represent the American League in the Fall Classic.
Two major surgeries over the past two years make that anything but a guarantee, a reality the 29-year-old outfielder absolutely understands, but it hasn’t stopped him from envisioning what Cleveland’s potent offense might look like with him in it.
“The lineup we’re projected to have — it’s a long way until Spring Training — but it’s great,” Brantley said. “I just want to be a part of it and contribute. We’ve got such a great group of guys around here that have learned so much from last year and got so much experience and are hungry to get back there. It’s going to be a fun season.”
Despite all of last year’s setbacks (and even acknowledging that he has pored over last season’s rehab, looking for any way he could have done something differently), Brantley is determined to not let the discouragement and difficulties of 2016 impact his preparation for this upcoming season.
He plans to just keep pushing forward.
“That’s the only way I think,” Brantley said. “There’s only one way to do it, and that’s to keep working just like the trainers and doctors are asking and do it to the best of your ability. It’s out of my hands after that. But, I can tell you one thing, I’m going to give it all I’ve got.”