If you’re a Cleveland Indians fan, hearing those words brings nothing but happy thoughts. That said, it’s also a phrase you haven’t heard in over a year.
These words were used to describe Tribe outfielder Michael Brantley yesterday during a minor league game against the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ Class AA team. It was yet another crucial step for the 2014 MVP candidate on his recovery from shoulder issues which sidelined him through last season.
As great as it was to hear Cleveland GM Mike Chernoff use the description above when talking about an RBI double Brantley contributed in yesterday’s game, it’s important to note there are still steps to take before he’s back to being an everyday contributor. That said, there’s no ignoring the fact that, compared to last year, the way Brantley and the Indians are handling his road to recovery has been much more effective.
Around this time last year, all we were hearing was how far ahead of schedule Brantley was in healing from surgery he underwent the previous November. It seemed lofty to think he’d be ready by Opening Day, but he was certainly working overtime to ensure such a possibility could occur.
Unfortunately, as admirable as it was to see Brantley race through the rehab process, it ultimately contributed to his early trip back to the DL. He was only able to log eleven games in 2016 before spending the rest of the year bouncing between minor league starts and getting shut down. By August, it was clear the only realistic option was for him to undergo another operation on his bum shoulder.
Clearly, coming into Spring Training this year, the Indians knew they couldn’t go through the same process of rushing one of their best players through his rehab program in another ill-fated effort to have him ready as early as possible. This was especially true when you considered how murky Brantley’s diagnosis was, with some claiming he was on his way to a full recovery while others hinted this latest operation may have devastating effects.
Thankfully, all signs indicate Cleveland is doing everything the right way when it comes to getting one of its best bats back in the lineup.
For one, the idea of expediting any bit of his recovery process has been scrapped. The Tribe is focusing solely on easing Brantley along at the right pace, letting him take everything one step at a time. Up until last week, simply hitting off a tee on consecutive days was as far as he’d come. From that point, Cleveland has been tentatively placing him in simulated games, getting him a few at-bats per day to ensure no setbacks occur.
While the temptation is certainly there to take advantage of Brantley’s continued progress and start revving things up a bit, the Tribe hasn’t even considered it. With only a couple weeks left in Spring Training, the team has yet to play him in a full-squad game.
Of course, helping matters is the fact the Indians have come a long way since this time last year. Where the 2016 Tribe saw Brantley as a player it desperately needed back as soon as possible, a World Series run without his services did a lot towards convincing everyone they could afford to be more patient in getting him back to full strength. Well, that and the acquisition of slugger Edwin Encarnacion. Knowing the lineup is still quite potent even without Brantley, the Indians are dealing with less pressure to push him through the rehab process.
With no burden to speed up his recovery and added patience in the form of new faces in the lineup, Brantley is finally getting the rehab program he needed last year. Both he and the Indians can be as realistic as possible about the timeframe for his return, with the hope it’ll prevent numerous setbacks like those he endured last year. If this helps Brantley return to form, it greatly increases Cleveland’s chances of bringing home the trophy it came just short of nabbing last October.
It’s still too early for that kind of talk. Still, with a far more patient approach this time around, the Indians are giving themselves a great shot at having one of their best players back and contributing in 2017.