Brantley smacks pinch-hit single in return

Brantley smacks pinch-hit single in return

CLEVELAND -- Michael Brantley was forced into the role of spectator due to injury during the Indians' run to the World Series a year ago. The All-Star left fielder is doing all he can to avoid a similar scenario this season.

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Prior to Saturday's game against the White Sox, the Indians activated Brantley from the 10-day disabled list, giving him the final two days of the regular season to further test his recovering right ankle. Brantley also has five days to try to convince Cleveland's decision-makers that he is healthy enough to be included on the American League Division Series roster.

"I want to sit and talk with him," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "Part of my, I don't know if anxiety is the right word, but he's trying so hard to be a part of what we're doing. And I just want to talk to him at length, because he's got a career ahead of him. I just want to make sure we're not putting him in a spot that isn't right.

"So we're going to talk for a bit. That's kind of where we left it, and I think he was comfortable with that, too."

Brantley was not in the starting lineup in Saturday's 2-1 loss to the White Sox, but Francona gave him a pinch-hit appearance in the fifth inning. As the outfielder walked to the plate, the Cleveland crowd welcomed him back with a rousing standing ovation.

After falling behind, 0-2, Brantley fouled off five pitches, took two more for balls and ended his 10-pitch battle against White Sox righty Carson Fulmer with a single to right field. That set up a run-scoring groundout from Francisco Lindor one at-bat later.

"How 'bout that? That was unbelievable," Francona said. "Every single guy up there [in the batting tunnel] stopped and watched the entire at-bat. That just was a phenomenal at-bat. His level of concentration and then to fire a hit in there, that was really something."

Earlier this month, it appeared unlikely that Brantley would be ready in time for the ALDS presented by Doosan, given how much time he missed due to the ankle issue and the slow progress made over the past seven weeks. After being cleared to resume running this week, however, Brantley rapidly increased his activity. On Friday, he went through running and agility drills, did outfield work and took part in normal batting practice.

Brantley's solid defensive day

Brantley sustained the injury on Aug. 8 while running in left field in a game against the Rockies. The setback was initially described as a sprained ankle, but the outfielder's recovery took longer than anticipated. On Sept. 19, Dr. Thomas Clanton -- a foot and ankle specialist based in Vail, Colo. -- confirmed that Brantley was dealing with a deltoid ligament sprain, along with right ankle synovitis.

While Brantley was sidelined, veteran outfielder Austin Jackson garnered the bulk of the playing time in left field while still helping to cover innings in center. With center fielder Bradley Zimmer (fractured left hand) and corner outfielder Brandon Guyer (left wrist) also out, Jason Kipnis has been starting in center, and rookie Greg Allen has been contributing in center and left. Lonnie Chisenhall, an option for all three spots, also returned this week from a right calf issue.

Jay Bruce starts in right field for the Indians, who have other outfield options in Tyler Naquin and Abraham Almonte. The health status of both Brantley and Chisenhall will impact how the Indians align their outfield for the ALDS, which begins Thursday. As things stand right now, Cleveland would face the Twins or Yankees, depending on who wins the AL Wild Card Game.

In 88 games this season, Brantley has hit .299/.358/.445 with nine home runs, 20 doubles, 47 runs scored and 52 RBIs. His first half was strong enough to earn Brantley a place on the AL All-Star team, marking his second career nod. This comeback campaign for Brantley comes after right shoulder and biceps injuries limited him to 11 games last season.

"He's tried so hard, and I've seen it," Francona said of Brantley's latest return. "Believe me, we appreciate what he's trying to do."

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 Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.