Brantley takes key step with Minors action

Indians outfielder goes 1-for-3 with double, three RBIs in debut

Brantley takes key step with Minors action

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians have done their best to simulate a game environment for Michael Brantley throughout the left fielder's comeback this spring. On Wednesday afternoon, Jason Kipnis helped out, adding some heckling from behind the backstop on Field 1 at Cleveland's complex.

As Brantley stepped to the plate for the second of three at-bats in his Minor League game debut, Kipnis began booing his friend and teammate loudly. Brantley ignored Kipnis' taunts and slashed a pitch off the wall in left field for a two-run double.

Spring Training info

"It just made me laugh," Brantley said with a smile. "I'll take all the cheers and boos I can get. It happens in the season, right?"

There is growing optimism about Brantley's health, both in terms of how his swing had looked this spring and in how the outfielder has been acting behind the scenes. That optimism remains guarded, however, because the Indians have been down this road before. Brantley has hit every milestone to date in his comeback from August surgery on his right biceps, but there remains no announced target date for his official return.

Brantley, Tomlin face off in BP

One year ago, Brantley was attempting to ramp up for Opening Day, following surgery on his right shoulder in November 2015. He made his Minor League game debut on March 17 last spring and then made his Cactus League debut on March 19. In that game, Brantley homered and had an outfield assist, making it look like he was back to form.

The rest of Brantley's turbulent 2016 campaign is well-documented. He appeared in only 11 games for the Indians, encountered multiple setbacks, met with an array of medical specialists and eventually underwent biceps tenodesis surgery on Aug. 15, ending his season.

That is why -- this time around -- Cleveland is not giving Brantley any target dates. No one within the Indians will speculate publicly about whether Opening Day is realistic for the outfielder.

"We're taking this day-to-day, as I'm sure you've heard once or twice," Indians general manager Mike Chernoff said. "With the complex injury that he had, [we're] making sure every benchmark he's continued to [progress]. We're not setting any limitations on it and we're not setting any projections on it.

"We feel like his body is going to dictate how he reacts to everything."

During Wednesday's Minor League contest -- between the Double-A affiliates of the Indians and Dodgers -- Brantley manned left field and ended 1-for-3 with a double and three RBIs. Brantley saw five pitches and took three swings, grounding out twice and lashing the opposite-field, two-run double. In the field, Brantley caught one ball and gloved a groundball single in his five innings of work.

"It's been a long time since we've seen a double off the wall," Chernoff said. "He looked really strong and good at the plate."

Following the game, Brantley headed inside the Tribe's complex to meet with the team's medical staff. Barring anything unexpected, the left fielder is scheduled to play in a second Minor League game on Saturday, with a Cactus League appearance not too far off in the future.

Brantley refuses to look too far ahead.

"I felt good," he said. "It's another step in the process."

Soon, there will be more than just Kipnis shouting at Brantley from the stands.

"I love it," said Chernoff, asked about Kipnis booing Brantley. "That was pretty funny."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.