Sunday, April 2, 2017

Brantley's Cactus League 2017 Rehab & Game Details

Brantley fans! i have the best news for you all on this, our Indians' baseball eve! it was just formally announced today that we will see Michael Brantley open up the season on the 25-man roster and bat 3rd in the Indians' starting lineup tomorrow, April 3! Happy Day Before Opening Day, indeed! i could not be more ecstatic!😁

when i last left off in my previous updates blog post, Michael was starting to take live batting practice in the indoor batting cages. since then, he's taken live BP on the field, played in some simulated games, advanced to playing in minor league games, and then received clearance to play in Cactus League spring games with the Indians. he hit every benchmark that he needed to and now he's ready to begin the regular season.

making it to this point took a lot of hard work on Michael's part; it was such a long road back. i'm sure nobody wants the 2017 campaign to get underway more than him so he can finally join his teammates on the field again instead of watching and coaching them from the dugout. lead by example this year, boy!

i'm going to do this similarly to how i did it a year ago, by splitting Michael's Cactus League rehab information into two separate blogs so that there's not an overwhelming amount of stuff in one huge post. this first blog contains his daily rehab updates, quotes, pictures, and videos throughout the duration of Indians spring games. all of Michael's hitting progressions are included here, as well as
the specific details of Michael's rehab game plate appearances and at bats. these updates cover the time period of February 25 - March 31 (due to a long spring training) and April 2. i also added a small section with some of my thoughts at the end. just read what you like on the days that are most intriguing to you because this is a lengthy post. for your convenience, i put all of Michael's milestone hitting advancements in bold italics.

the second blog i wrote, which is linked at the bottom of this post, features breakdowns of Michael's Cactus League rehab game numbers, his rehab game lines, and my own predictions for his 2017 regular season. if you're only interested in seeing his #s without all the details, that's the blog for you.

want a refresher on anything that's happened since Michael's biceps tenodesis (surgery) on August 15, 2016? then check out these blogs: 
Brantley To Have Season-Ending Right Shoulder Surgery (August 13, 2016)
Brantley Undergoes Biceps Tenodesis, Recovery Will Take 4 Months (August 15, 2016) 
What Is Biceps Tenodesis?
Brantley's August 2016 Post-Surgery Interview
Brantley's September 2016 Sling Updates
Brantley's 2016 Postseason October Rehab Updates
Brantley News & Updates from November & December 2016
Brantley's January 2017 Hitting Progressions + Other News & Pics
Brantley's February 2017 Hitting Progressions (Pre-Spring Games)


Daily Rehab Updates (during the Indians' Cactus League Games)

February 25: the Indians played in their first Cactus League exhibition game versus the Cincinnati Reds, but Michael did not. while the game was in progress, Terry Francona did a live interview on air with SportsTime Ohio's Rick Manning and Matt Underwood. in a short video from SportsTime Ohio's twitter, Tito declared, "if he's healthy, there's your #3 hitter and your left fielder." personally, i'm still skeptical about that because i know the skipper favors the Carlos Santana-Jason Kipnis-Francisco Lindor trio at the top of his order, so we'll see what's to come.

February 26: during the game against the Chicago Cubs, WTAM 1100 broadcaster Jim Rosenhaus shared that Michael's still taking live batting practice.

then in the bottom of the 7th inning, Indians hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo talked with STO's Manning and Underwood about Michael. at the 3:00 mark in a video on indians.com, he disclosed, "he's doing really well. his swings in the cage have been great and i think hopefully tomorrow he'll take some BP on the field and just slowly working his way back in it. right now he's just trying to get the volume up and he's taking more swings than he typically would on a normal day just to get built up and there's been no setbacks, so i'm really optimistic about it. he's one of the best left-handed hitters in the game. to have him in the lineup would be huge."

February 27: Michael did take BP on the field for the first time, and Jordan Bastian provided video of it on his twitter. from Bastian's article on indians.com, Michael stood in the cage on Field 3 at the training complex and kept his head down after each swing. "i didn't look. i tried not to look," Michael admitted with a smile. therefore, he didn't know if any of the balls he hit cleared the fence. "one thing that i can do is get too excited, and swing too hard, so i just wanted to stay under control today."

"it's great just to kind of go through a normal day. i got to do everything with the team today. taking BP on the field, there's always some butterflies, some first-time jitters, excitement to be back on the field with everybody. it all went well."

Michael also acknowledged it will take more repetitions for his swing to feel completely normal again. "with anything, it's going to take time. as soon as you get back on the field, it's a different atmosphere. you're going to have to get some reps under your belt. i just look forward to being back out there pain-free with my teammates. day 1 of BP, i'm happy with it, and we'll go from there." (additional source: video on indians.com.)

the training staff will examine how Michael feels on Tuesday [February 28] morning before they plan his next step. he'll be required to go through a series of normal workouts before advancing to live pitching again. however, he's back to a normal spring training work day. he's taking between 110-130 swings, depending on how he feels, and, as has been reported several times, is a "full participant" in drills with the rest of the outfielders.

Indians GM Mike Chernoff monitored Michael's cage work and pronounced, "it's obviously been a while since we've seen him out there. he looks good. he's had a build-up through his entire rehab process and hit every check mark along the way. the next big hurdle for him is when he starts to see live pitching. he's got to get through a couple more things first before he does that. the first day out on the field looked great, but that will be the big hurdle for him once he hits that.

"it's really good to see just the consistency of how well he's doing after every one of his sessions. so, his volume has really picked up in the batting cage and then obviously he got out here today, so everything's been really positive."

although there is still no firm timetable for his return to game action, Michael is definitely not expected to play during the first week of spring training, per Chris Assenheimer's article on chroniclet.com.

February 28: in response to a fan's inquiry on how Michael felt after yesterday, Bastian relayed that he didn't take BP on the field today, but Francona said Michael was feeling good after yesterday's session. there was no way he was going to take BP on the field regardless because, as Nick Camino elected to tweet, much of the morning baseball activity in Goodyear was held indoors due to some rain and chilly temps.

also on this date, Michael did an interview with Kenny Roda for The Kenny Roda Show on News Talk 1480 WHBC AM. i only transcribed the questions and answers pertaining to his rehab. (note: i cut out all his infamous "you know's" lol). but if you want to listen to the whole thing on soundcloud.com, click here.

how different is the process of trying to get back this year from what he did last year? "well, one, it's a different injury that i'm coming back from. but two is i had more time to kinda rehab and get the strength back in my shoulder and back in my body as well. i had more months to recover so hopefully we're taking the right steps in the process going on right now and everything's going well and it continues to go well."

back-to-back days of BP right? so how's he feeling? "i'm feeling good. i'm very excited about that. you know, stepping blocks, just moving forward, to getting back out there playing in a game and being with my teammates."

how is he dealing with [the patience of coming back] mentally and how tough is that? "it's tough, but when you have a great group of teammates that are helping you along the way, always being there for you, great group of family that i have, plus with this staff and management that we have that they're very supportive of everything, they made it a lot easier for me. i thank them every day for it and hopefully i can get back out there with my team and i'll be a positive influence on them as well."

how does he balance wanting to get back because of what they accomplished last year, but not rushing back and having setbacks? "you just gotta listen to your body, listen to the doctors and trainers and everything we're doing now is to prepare for a long season. we understand that. whenever that time comes, it comes, but we have a schedule set in place that we, it's a weekly basis and as long as we clear all that, we should be good to go."

that schedule, does it involve like goals, reaching this goal and then he can move on to the next goal? "correct, there's stepping stones for everything, to getting back into live BP and the game situations, they're all building blocks leading everything up to full games and then 9 innings of course. we just got to be smart and obviously i have to be smart and communicate how i'm feeling, but everything's going very well."

Tito piggybacked Michael's assessment in Assenheimer's chroniclet.com article. "this year, just like last year, he has milestones that he has to accomplish and move on to the next phase, and there really isn't a timetable on any of them. it's just when he does it to the medical people's satisfaction, he moves on. by the time you get to game action, it's pretty significant what he's going through. he's doing everything in his power to get healthy and that's really all you can ask for."

March 1: in the top of the 3rd inning of the Tribe game versus the Seattle Mariners, Chris Antonetti, Indians President of Baseball Operations, spoke about Michael with Tom Hamilton, who was calling his first game of the spring on WTAM 1100. Antonetti stated that Michael took BP on the field again today and feels good. then Hammy informed listeners that Michael rehabbed for four and a half hours a day in Cleveland over the winter.

March 2: Bastian's excerpt in his blog on bastian.mlblogs.com revealed that Michael took the day off from on-field BP, but he might be cleared to go through a normal workout day again on Friday [March 3]. and in Bastian's indians.com article, he wrote that Michael went through a light workout after taking on-field batting practice Wednesday [March 1], and Francona articulated that Michael has reported no issues since resuming that step in his hitting progression.

"i just talked to him a little bit ago," Tito proclaimed in Assenheimer's article on chroniclet.com. "he's got a little bit of an off-the-field day today but he's feeling really good." Assenheimer also noted that it's unlikely that Michael will make his exhibition debut next week.

March 3: Michael took BP on the field and Bastian recorded a twitter video of it.

March 4: in the morning, Bastian tweeted Michael was scheduled to take on-field BP again, his first time doing so on back-to-back days. later, Bastian uploaded another batting practice video to twitter.

here are some photos of Michael during his BP session:

photos courtesy of @MLBastian on twitter

in Bastian's article on indians.com, he again made it known that Michael's timetable for a return to games remains unclear.

March 5: Francona communicated via Bastian's indians.com article that Michael was feeling good after back-to-back days of taking normal batting practice on the field. Michael was not scheduled to hit on the field today, but will resume his hitting progression this week.

"he's handling everything remarkably well," Tito affirmed. "that's probably the best way we can say it. you can see he's in great shape. he's worked so damn hard that he's cut. he's worked so hard. we've just kind of got to let it play itself out and not try to rush it. just give him the best chance to, like i say, when he gets back, to stay back. that's probably the biggest thing."

Francona further specified that Michael will need to hit in a series of live BP rounds before he is cleared to play in Cactus League games. there is not a firm date planned yet for the simulated sessions of his spring debut and the Indians do not want to place target dates on his return. "that's by design. that's just not fair to him to ever do that. when the medical people feel like he's ready, we'll find a sim game for him, believe me."

"we're always optimistic," Tito continued in Paul Hoynes' article on cleveland.com. "he surely gives you a reason to be that. but you want to be fair... knowing what happened last year. we just don't want to throw too much at him too quick."

here's a photo of Michael signing autographs for fans:

photo courtesy of @Indians on twitter

March 6: Bastian tweeted that Michael went through normal BP before hitting in a simulated game versus Josh Tomlin. Michael, along with Kipnis, heckled Tomlin while he was warming up in the bullpen ahead of the sim game. "yeah, throw that one!" Michael exclaimed, per Bastian.

during the sim game, Bastian recorded a facebook live video that showed Michael first batting versus Tomlin and then versus Dan Otero. i can't directly link it here, but if you want to search for it, go to facebook.com/jordanbastianmlb, click the videos tab, and look for the one he took on March 6.

Bastian publicized that Michael had three total at bats, two versus Tomlin and one versus Otero, though his facebook video only showed Michael's last two ABs. by my own observation, Michael struck out after a 2-2 count in his second AB of the game. the pitch order was ball, foul, strike, ball, strike 3 called. (Bastian also supplied this AB versus Tomlin in a twitter video.) and with Otero, Michael grounded out to the pitcher after a 2-2 count.

Andre Knott, in-game reporter for SportsTime Ohio, tweeted that Michael took a huge cut on the first pitch from Tomlin in his first at bat. a condensed version of that AB can be found in a video on the cleveland.com youtube channel. the result was Michael grounding out to Tomlin. beforehand, Michael told him he was gonna round the bases on him.

here are some photos of Michael's AB vs. Tomlin: 

photo courtesy of @MLBastian on twitter
photo courtesy of @Indians on twitter
photo courtesy of @Indians on twitter

"besides wanting to watch him hit, that should be worth the price of admission, watching those two face each other, " Francona insisted in Hoynsie's cleveland.com article.

"everything we've said about Brantley is true. the only reason you try to temper your comments is you want to be fair to him. he has worked so hard. i wish people could actually see what he's done because it's gone so far and above what you would expect somebody to do. this guy stayed in Cleveland (all winter). he's made so many sacrifices because he wants to be healthy and wants to be part of the team. he's already getting paid. this is him being accountable and being everything we talked about. that's what this is. if this ends up where he's not healthy, there is nothing more he could have done."

Tito again reiterated that the true test will come when Michael plays consecutive games. then it'll become clear if his shoulder can handle the workload.

"i've already been proud of him, now i'm starting to get excited for him because he's getting closer. but you have to temper it because of what he went through last year when he got into games and it's just fair to him."

"you don't put something unrealistic in front of him, because we don't want to just get him back," Tito added from Bastian's twitter picture quote. "we want to keep him back. that's the whole idea."

"it was good," Michael avowed in Hoynsie's cleveland.com article after his sim game. "another stepping stone. another progression. it went well. i'm just excited every chance i get to kind of progress.

"i had to make sure i got in there mentally. i just wanted to be aggressive. i didn't want to get in there and swing 50 percent. i wanted to make sure i took a good aggressive swing. i was able to do that today. tomorrow is a new day."

in Bastian's evening article on indians.com, Michael conveyed that he was not sure if he would be cleared to hit again Tuesday [March 7] because his daily routine is built around how he feels each morning when he arrives to the complex. "i'm getting anxious to getting back out there with the guys and just being healthy. i'm taking it day by day."

March 8: Hoynsie tweeted that Michael will play another simulated game in the afternoon versus Zach McAllister and Carlos Frias, and that he bounced back well from Monday's game.

the Cleveland Indians' twitter later posted a very short video of Michael in the batter's box for one pitch from McAllister. (Bastian went home to Ohio to be with his family for a few days. hence, i lost my top source.) whoever runs that Indians account told someone that Michael hit into a routine flyout.

the cleveland.com youtube channel provided another video with parts of Michael's ABs as well.

in Hoynsie's postgame notes article on cleveland.com, he wrote that Michael made hard contact against both McAllister and Frias. in his last at bat, he actually lined a shot off McAllister's shoulder, then gave him a hug after the game.

"he looked good," Van Burkleo observed. "he hasn't had any setbacks and his timing is going to get there. that last ball he hit was scorched (as McAllister can attest). it's always encouraging when you can add one of the best hitters in the game to your lineup."

Van Burkleo also warned that Michael will have to go through a few more simulated games before seeing game action.

"it sounded like Michael took some good swings," Francona, who didn't see Michael's game, commented. "the big thing is how he'll feel tomorrow." 

March 9: Knott tweeted Michael had great swings last night, feels good today, and will play in a 5 inning simulated game tomorrow. Knott also uncovered that Michael will play in the outfield in the sim game.

during the Tribe's day game versus the Los Angeles Angels, Hammy clarified Michael would be playing left field, though i think that was kind of obvious.

Hoynsie's evening article on cleveland.com contained some quotes from Francona about Michael. "he hit some balls good and took some aggressive swings. the best thing is he showed up today feeling good.

"the medical people and Michael are completely driving this. when he gets to a certain point with something, they move on to the next thing and not until. he's done a fantastic job. the goal isn't to get him back, it's to get him back and keep him back. we're trying to do it in a way that is mostly fair to him."

"if he's not our best player, he's one of our best players," Tito praised. "and he's one of our leaders. he's important to what we're doing and even though we got pretty far without him last year, we don't want to do that again. we want him to be a part of everything we do.

"if you have him back, that's a position (left field) you know is taken care of. trying to replace him, probably isn't with one hitter."

March 10: the Indians twitter account shared a short video of Michael taking BP before his simulated game.

once his sim game started, Knott delivered updates about each of Michael's ABs:
--first at bat versus Mike Clevinger, grounded out up the middle to the 2nd baseman: video
--second at bat versus Clevinger, fouled off a few balls before striking out
--third at bat versus Shawn Morimando, smoked the ball up the middle for a single: video

"it was a very good day for Brantley," Francona asserted in Hoynsie's evening cleveland.com article. "he had three at bats and played the outfield for three innings. everything was good. i'm guessing he'll have another sim game, but it won't be tomorrow."

Doug Miller's article on indians.com included more from the manager. "now it's repetition. the intensity's been really good. it's repetition and building on that and bouncing back. everything so far has gone tremendous. i think he's really excited. ...he's getting there. it's exciting to watch."

both articles additionally cited that Michael stood next to Tito in the dugout during the March 9 game when the Indians played the Angels. so the skipper asked him, "you're a little froggy today, aren't you? a little frisky?" (froggy = jumpy, apparently.) according to Francona, "he said, 'yeah.' you could ask me a million questions, but when he says that, that means things are going OK. he was just bouncing around a little bit. it was good."

March 11: no news on Michael today, but Hoynsie did illustrate what a simulated game entails in his latest Hey, Hoynsie article on cleveland.com. "a simulated game usually involves a pitcher, hitter, and catcher. sometimes two full teams are involved depending on what the injured player is working on and how many game situations the coaching staff wants to add. in the games i saw Brantley play, the catcher was the umpire and each hitter would take four or five pitches and/or swings. the pitchers were on a pitch count and when they reached that, that was usually the end of the inning."

March 13: Bastian returned to the beat and tweeted that Michael took part in another simulated game, with Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw pitching. Knott said that Michael had a few solid hits off Allen on a back field.

Hoynsie embedded a video on twitter of Michael facing Allen: he first took a pitch before making contact with a second pitch. Bastian provided a short twitter video of Michael fouling a pitch, but i don't know if it was against Allen or Shaw. Bastian also posted a more zoomed in video of Michael making contact with a pitch on his instagram. and the cleveland.com youtube channel had a video of Michael connecting with four pitches (the second is from the Hoynsie video).

here's a photo of Michael batting vs. Allen:

photo courtesy of @MLBastian on twitter

"it's a pretty swing," Allen complimented afterwards via Bastian's tweet. "i don't think there's any left-handed swing better in baseball. it looks the same."

during the Indians game against the Chicago White Sox, in the bottom of the 5th inning, Vice President Bob DiBiasio was in the radio booth with Rosey and claimed that Michael was very aggressive with his approach in his sim game and really attacking the pitches.

in Bastian's indians.com article, he wrote that Michael took seven swings within a series of three at bats against Allen and Shaw on Field 3. he shot of one Allen's pitches into left field, prompting Allen to ask about the pitch location. "did that get in [on his hands]?" "no, that's a base hit to left," Michael countered with a smirk.

that's a side to Dr. Smooth that the Indians are happy to have back. in fact, how he's acting behind the scenes and how he's recovering from workouts generates optimism about his return. "this spring, it's as much what you see in his face and in how he carries himself as what you see in his swing," recognized Indians assistant hitting coach Matt Quatraro. "but also, they've really built up his volume more, and you can see that he hasn't had any fatigue issues with it or anything like that."

"it's awesome," Allen remarked. "a guy like him, man, he can change a club not only from an offensive or defensive standpoint, but having him there in your lineup every day. he's a great clubhouse guy. he's a leader. just having his presence around every day, it's awesome to see."

"he's staying on different pitches," Q testifed in Hoynsie's article on cleveland.com. "he looks free and easy and very comfortable with his swing.

"they wanted X number of swings today because they've figured out what he averages per game. they want to get to that level where it is controlled before going into a situation that isn't."

"we were shooting for opening day (last year)," Francona recalled. "right now, we're completely going on what the medical people say and they talk to Brantley every day. when they give him the go ahead, we'll gladly write his name in the lineup. until then, i'm just listening to what they say and asking Michael every day how he feels."

"i felt i was throwing the ball really well today and he put some good swings on it," Allen commended re: Michael's soft liner over the shortstop and into left field. "last year was more unknown. there is still a little bit of reservation still because it's a touchy thing. but we're all pulling for him and hoping he continues to progress and gets to where he needs to be.

"he's the same guy. he works his tail off and knows what he's doing. his thing right now is to be able to go on the field and be healthy day to day. we're excited for him."

March 14: Bastian tweeted that Francona announced Michael is scheduled to play in minor league games on Wednesday [March 15] and Friday [March 17]. a little while after that, T.J. Zuppe posted a twitter video of Michael taking some BP swings.

here's a photo of Michael during batting practice:

photo courtesy of @MLBastian on twitter

and here he is signing autos for fans:

photo courtesy of @MLBastian on twitter

from Hoynsie's article on cleveland.com, Michael was also expected to play in left field, though Francona wasn't sure of the allotted number of innings. "i don't know how many innings they have him scheduled for on Wednesday. there still has to be a progression and that's what we'll do. i think the trainers felt a minor league game would be the next best thing.

"Brantley's volume (of work, swings, etc.) has been the same as last spring. every time he reaches a marker, he moves on and not until. that's exactly what we did last year."

as for Michael's sim game on March 13, "i wasn't there," Tito confessed. "by all accounts (Brantley's swing) was normal. that's a really good thing. i think that's what you're looking for."

"he's been a little froggy the last couple days in the dugout," Francona repeated in Bastian's indians.com article. "he wouldn't be that way if he was hurting. you can tell. some of those indicators are maybe even more important than somebody saying he feels good."

March 15: Bastian replied to a fan's tweet that Michael's minor league game was at 4 pm ET at the Tribe's complex in Goodyear. before the game, Bastian notified that Michael would be starting in left field with the Indians' Double A team, the Akron RubberDucks, versus the Los Angeles Dodgers' Double A team, the Tulsa Drillers. after the top of the 1st inning, Bastian tweeted that he did not have any defensive plays.

here are some photos of Michael from the game, which Hoynsie wrote took place on Field 1:

photo courtesy of @TJZuppe on twitter
photo courtesy of @TJZuppe on twitter
photo courtesy of @MLBastian on twitter
photo courtesy of @MLBastian on twitter

Zuppe tweeted that Michael bat 2nd in the bottom of the 1st inning. then Zuppe uploaded a video of Michael's first AB on twitter, in which he hit the first pitch and grounded out to 2nd base.

per Hoynsie's tweet, Michael caught a fly ball in the top of the 2nd inning.

the youtube channel BurningRiverBaseball provided the best video of Michael's second at bat in the bottom of the 3rd inning. with runners on 1st and 2nd base, after taking a low first pitch for ball 1, Michael hit a 2-run double. Hoynsie identified that it was actually hit off the fence in left field.

from Bastian, Michael later scored on Akron shortstop Yu-Cheng Chang's home run. Bastian also shared that Kipnis booed Michael from the stands during his AB, which can be heard at the end of his and Hoynsie's twitter videos. haterπŸ˜›

only Zuppe had video of Michael's third and final AB of the day, an RBI groundout to 2nd base. Michael saw five total pitches and took three swings overall, Zuppe tweeted.

Bastian's article on indians.com additionally established that Michael gloved a ground ball single in left during one of his five innings in the field.

after the game, Zuppe and Bastian took essentially the same video of Michael speaking with reporters.

how'd he feel? "felt good. it's another step in the process, went well, and we'll talk about it afterwards and see how it goes."

how happy is he to be reaching this step at this point? "it feels great. it's a lot of work paying off thanks to the trainers and doctors' worth ethic and just trying to get back on the field and be with my teammates."

did Kipnis booing him help with his second at bat? "it just made me laugh, but i mean, i'll take all the cheers and boos i can get. it happens in the season, right?" (more of Kip's taunting, including a "you suck, 2-3!" can be heard in cleveland.com's youtube video.)

did it feel good to make contact on the double? "it always feels good to make contact period. i mean, usually good things happen if you make contact so uh, continue to progress and just continue to try to put good swings on the baseball."

following his little media session, Michael went inside the complex to meet with the medical staff, as described in Bastian's article. he's still scheduled to play another minor league game on Friday [March 17] and, barring a setback, a Cactus League game is not too far off in the future.

another cleveland.com youtube video included Chernoff's evaluation of Michael's performance. "it's been a long time since we saw a double off the wall, so obviously, good feeling for all of us watching that. it looked like he looked really strong and good at the plate, so just to be able to see him in the game is really a positive step for us. ...each day he just continues to progress and has felt great so we keep going with it and obviously today it was fun to see him out there and see such positive results."

March 16: Bastian updated that there aren't any minor league games on Friday [March 17], so Michael's next game action will likely come Saturday [March 18], barring any setbacks. and from Bastian's article on indians.com, Michael was slated to go through a regular workout today. "he feels good," Indians bench coach Brad Mills deduced after asking Michael how he was doing early in the morning. "he sent back two thumbs. that's all i needed to see."

March 17: a morning article by Hoynsie on cleveland.com unveiled that Michael and the outfielders did drills on Wednesday [March 15] in which they had to take their eye off the ball and run to a spot to catch fly balls fired out of a pitching machine. the drill can be difficult because the ball can be lost in the sky. "shooting the ball out of the machine, i was just reminded how easily he gets to balls," Mills admired. "it doesn't look like he's expending effort or running hard, but he gets to the balls. he takes his eyes off the ball, gets to the spot. it's pretty neat."

when the notion of Michael maybe playing in Cactus League games before camp breaks came up, Millsy professed, "i dream of that. i don't think that's out of the question. right now i don't think that's out of the question. me by saying that, i don't think that's pushing him."

later, Tribeinsider confirmed on twitter that Michael will play left field in a minor league game for 5 innings in Goodyear on Saturday [March 18] morning.

March 18: Michael's minor league game turned out to be an intrasquad game at the Tribe complex and began shortly after 10:30 am Arizona time, according to Bastian's tweet.

here's a photo of Michael before his first trip to the plate:

photo courtesy of @TJZuppe on twitter

in his first at bat in the top of the 1st inning, which from the picture above came against a right-handed pitcher, Michael took two strikes and then grounded out to 2nd base. Zuppe had the short video of his slow chopper. and since he bat in the top of the inning, it's a safe assumption that he was playing for the "away" or "road" team.

i believe Michael's second AB came in the top of the 2nd inning because it was very quick after his first AB, though i don't know that for certain. he has been playing these minor league games so that the Indians can control when and how often he hits though, so it is possible he did bat in consecutive innings. anyway, Michael swung at the first pitch and hit a sinking liner to right field that was caught on a slide by the right fielder. Zuppe again provided video.

Michael drew a walk against right-hander Perci Garner after a 3-1 count in his third plate appearance of the day. no video, source: Bastian.

in his fourth PA, Michael flew out to medium deep center field on the third pitch of the count. Zuppe posted that vid and you can see yet another righty pitcher was on the mound at the time. Zuppe also explained to a fan on twitter that Michael had been batting 2nd every inning.

following the game, Bastian tweeted that Michael contended his swing feels good and today went fine, but he doesn't know what the next step will be. more information is expected to come from Francona tomorrow.

later on, Bastian tweeted the full interview with Michael in a twitter picture. i've re-typed it out here for easier accessibility:

is he getting closer to a Cactus League game? "that's a better question for James Quinlan."

he's OK physically? everything is fine? "yep. i'm doing very well. i'm very happy with where i'm at."

how much is he looking forward to moving beyond minor league games? "that's why you work so hard to get back. you just want to get back out there with your teammates."

last year, his follow-through was an issue at times. how's the swing feeling? "my swing is feeling good. i'm very happy with where i'm at."

did he single to right? or did [the right fielder] catch it? "he caught it."

so he doesn't know what's next? "i do not. not yet."

he'll come in tomorrow and... "and talk to James Quinlan."

in Bastian's article on indians.com, he depicted that Michael sat at his locker and conversed with Tomlin after his game for several minutes before meeting with the media and giving his short answers. Zuppe's article on theathletic.com (subscription needed to read it all) further expounded that the game was only a five inning affair.

March 19: the Indians' twitter broke the news that Michael is expected to start in left field tomorrow in the Indians' game versus the Los Angeles Dodgers. later, Bastian tweeted that Francona surmised he might play 3 games in 4 days beginning Monday [March 20]. they're still taking it day-by-day and won't speculate on Opening Day availability.

from a video embedded in Bastian's indians.com article, Tito also emphasized this to reporters: "i just want to be careful what i say because we're starting to get to that point where people are pointing towards Opening Day. i don't want to do that to him. this kid has done, we've been over it 100 times, he's done everything in his power. and by all accounts, he is feeling really good. so for me, that's good enough. wherever it leads and whenever it leads, as long as he's feeling good, we're probably in pretty good shape."

**BRANTLEY'S CACTUS LEAGUE GAMES BEGIN**

March 20: Michael made his Cactus League debut batting 2nd and starting in left field versus the Dodgers at 4:05 pm ET.

photo courtesy of @Indians on twitter

finally, i was able to follow along with Michael's ABs myself through MLB Gameday and audio. therefore, i did not have to rely on the writers to tweet out details.

defensively, he recorded the second putout in the top of the 1st inning. he also should have recorded the first out, but the 3rd baseman, Yandy Diaz, went back on the ball even though it was the left fielder's ball to catch. so Michael held up in order to avoid a collision, the ball deflected off Diaz's glove, and then it dropped in for a double.

photo courtesy of Matt York via Associated Press

after that, Zuppe tweeted that Michael had a chat with Diaz about the incident.

photo courtesy of Dan Mendlik via TribeVibe

and here's a photo of Michael on deck before his first at bat:

photo courtesy of @Indians on twitter

with Brandon Guyer on 1st base and the Tribe down, 1-0, in the bottom of the 1st inning, Michael hit a ground ball on a 1-1 count against RHP Brandon McCarthy that was booted by the Dodgers' 1st baseman, and so he reached on a fielding error. the pitch sequence went: strike, ball, ball in play. he later scored the go-ahead run on Diaz's single.

photo courtesy of @Indians on twitter

in his second at bat in the bottom of the 2nd inning, Michael faced McCarthy again with Erik Gonzalez at 2nd base and 1 out. on the sixth pitch of a 1-2 count, Michael hit an RBI single into right field to give the Indians a 5-1 lead. indians.com has that video. the pitch sequence went: swing and miss, called strike, foul, foul, ball, single.

in the top of the 5th inning, Michael caught a fly ball at the wall in deep left field to record the first out.

Dodgers left-hander Adam Liberatore came into the game before Michael's third at bat in the bottom of the 5th inning with 1 out and the Tribe up, 5-3. after a 1-2 count, Michael hit a line drive single to right field and then was lifted for a pinch runner. his final pitch sequence went: foul, ball, swing and miss, single.

Michael ended his debut by reaching base all three times he stepped to the plate. he hit two singles, drove in a run, and scored a run. in total, he saw 13 pitches and only had two swings and misses. not bad.

here are some more various game photos, all courtesy of Dan Mendlik via TribeVibe:

 
 
 
 
 
cute photo of Michael with his son, Michael III

when his day was done, Michael met with the media at 5:55 pm. the succeeding quotes came from Zuppe's twitter video, a video on indians.com, Terry Pluto's cleveland.com article, Anthony Castrovince's indians.com article, Bastian's blog on bastian.mlblogs.com, and what i transcribed when the full four minute interview was aired on WTAM 1100 in between innings towards the end of the Indians game.

"i feel good. it's great. this is what you do all the rehab for and, you know, stick to the process just to get back out there with your teammates. i was able to do that today, and hopefully i continue to do that down the road."

what's been different this year about how he's feeling compared to the process he went through last year? "i just had more time, more time to rehab, build strength and try to get back on my feet. it's been a long process. it's another step in the process, but another good one."

"probably the biggest question last year was playing back to back games. i've been able to accomplish that in the minor leagues. hopefully i'll be able to accomplish that in the Major Leagues. it's one day at a time and everything's going well."

"i'm always pushing to be better. i mean, i know that for sure. i was able to get the barrel to the ball on one swing so i'll take it as a good day today."

"it's just good to be out there running the bases, using instincts. being out there with my teammates is the most important thing."

does he think about Opening Day as a target? "nope, not at all. i'm one day at a time. i'll talk to James Quinlan tonight and then tomorrow morning and make a decision from there. i'm going to wake up tomorrow, feel great, come in here and do my rehab and work out and just get back on my feet and go from there. it's one day at a time."

(be that as it may, Hoynsie wrote in a cleveland.com article that Michael will need at least 50 to 60 at bats to open up the season on time. and with only 10 games left and Michael likely not playing all of them, might he be headed to the DL?πŸ™)

on getting an at bat against a left-handed pitcher in his final at bat: "facing a lefty is almost game-like. you're coming up, they bring in a lefty for you."

"baseball's a fun game. any chance i get to go out there, i'm gonna enjoy it. i never take for granted that i get to put on a Major League uniform."

as the Indians game continued, Knott briefed Rosey about the missed catch in the 1st inning. immediately after the miscue, Michael schooled Diaz, "that's my ball, i'll call you off, i'll get it from now on." Zuppe later tweeted that Michael harbored the blame in front of reporters, conceding it was his own fault and he needed to take charge.

Francona had several thoughts about Michael's performance as well. from Bastian's twitter photo, the manager advocated, "it was good all the way around. he took a couple good swings. he faced a lefty. he had a check swing that didn't bother him. things like that. he looked amazingly normal for a guy that hasn't played very much.

"every time he passes a hurdle, it's hard not to get excited, just because of what he means to us. but, this was one. now, we have a day off tomorrow and then he'll come back and play the next two games. and then, hopefully, he's bouncing back good. that's probably the biggest thing, because he feels good now. we just want to see how he bounces back and make sure he maintains his strength and all those things. yeah, it's hard not to be excited."

Ryan Lewis had more from the skipper in his article on ohio.com. "you know, playing in a game isn't the end of the [journey], but i'm excited for him, excited potentially for us. we just have to temper that, knowing that today's not the destination. it's still part of where he's going. but man, he's come an awful long way. everybody that's been around him have been kind of raving about how he looks and he feels good. heck yeah, we're excited."

March 22: Pluto incorporated in his morning article on cleveland.com that he was told Michael was feeling good Tuesday [March 21], the day after his first Cactus League game.

Michael bat 2nd and started in left field again in the game against the Colorado Rockies.

photo courtesy of @Indians on twitter

in the top of the 1st inning, he faced left-hander Kyle Freeland with Santana at 1st base. after a 3-1 count, he flew out to left field.

in his second at bat, he faced Freeland again to lead off the top of the 4th inning with the Indians trailing, 6-1. after a 1-2 count, Michael fouled off two pitches. the next pitch to him was a ball. then, on the 7th pitch of a 2-2 count, Michael sent another fly ball to left field. on the contrary, he caught a fly ball to end the bottom of the 4th.

Michael's final AB of the game came against southpaw Harrison Musgrave. with 1 out and the Tribe down, 7-1, in the top of the 6th inning, he hit a 2-0 pitch to right field for a single. then he was lifted for a pinch runner and his day was done.

after the game, Zuppe tweeted that Francona reaffirmed Michael is still scheduled to play again tomorrow. "as long as he continues to feel good, we'll all be smiling."

right now the Indians are looking to see if anything in his swing looks out of the ordinary. Tito inferred, "he looks healthy to me" in Lewis' ohio.com article. "he looks good. it's just now bouncing back and maintaining as opposed to last year, he got in these games and he felt it and then he started to get a little weaker. he's not having that."

March 23: Michael played in his first back-to-back Cactus League game set, batting leadoff and starting in left field versus the Rockies.

photo courtesy of @Indians on twitter

in his first AB against right-handed pitcher Antonio Senzatela in the bottom of the 1st inning, Michael grounded out to 2nd base after a 1-0 count.

his next at bat came with 1 out, Michael Martinez at 2nd base, and the Tribe up, 1-0, in the bottom of the 3rd inning. after Senzatela got ahead in the count, 1-0, Michael flew out to center field.

when facing Senzatela in his final AB of the day, with 1 out and the Indians leading, 3-2, in the bottom of the 5th inning, Michael grounded out to 3rd base after a 2-2 count. he fouled off the first pitch and Rosey commentated that he hoped Michael was just indicating disappointment with the foul because he did have an atypical visual reaction after that swing...

here are some photos from the game:

photos courtesy of Dan Mendlik via TribeVibe

during the game, Lewis tweeted this Francona quote about Michael: "i think every time he plays and he's healthy, because now that he's going to go into back-to-backs and things like that, things happen. as long as he's maintaining his strength and feeling good, whether he's ready to open, or if it's a week [into the season], grand scheme of things, as long as he's healthy, we're in good shape. that's kind of how i've been looking at it. he's come so far that Opening Day in my opinion is not the finish line for him. i know it's something everybody shoots for and i get it, but as long as he maintains his health and feels good, we're all going to be happy."

will Michael only be able to play two out of three games when he comes back? from Lewis' twitter photo, Tito offered, "i don't know what the ground rules are if there are any yet. we're still in the process of watching him get back. but if at the beginning of it, if they said, 'hey, you might need to play him two out of three,' i'd be fine with that. we're just not there yet. we want to let him get as healthy as he can and see where it goes. i know his goal is to play every day. he hates having that built-in day off. maybe he won't need it. we'll see. whatever's in his best interest we'll certainly try to do. he'll be a big part of the conversation because we do trust him and he deserves that. he's honest and he's hard working and he wants to get his input. he'll tell us. he's been through too much not to."

after the game's conclusion, Francona construed how Michael felt after consecutive games in Bastian's twitter pic. "all good. all good. he remains every bit as good as before the game, which is a great sign. now, he won't play tomorrow, but we'll get him back in there the next day."

and from Pluto's cleveland.com article, the skipper reflected, "if we could teach everyone to swing like that, we would. he's taking good swings. ...Michael was a good hitter before and if he's healthy, he'll be a good hitter again."

March 24: Lewis tweeted Michael is expected to play Saturday [March 25] and most likely Sunday [March 26] as well, which originated from Francona's morning media session. Michael had a scheduled day off today, but still worked out with the guys before their game against the Cubs:

photo courtesy of @cle_ItIsGone on twitter

March 25: Michael bat 3rd, which i hope is his BOP come the regular season, and started in left field in the game versus the White Sox.

photo courtesy of @Indians on twitter

in his first at bat, with 1 out, Lindor at 1st base, and the Indians already down, 1-0, in the bottom of the 1st inning, Michael faced right-hander Dylan Covey. on the first pitch, he sent a ground ball to 2nd base, hitting into a double play to end the inning. that was his first GIDP of spring.

in Michael's second at bat, he led off the bottom of the 4th inning against Covey with the Tribe behind, 2-0. after a 1-2 count, he swung and missed for strike 3, marking his first strikeout of spring.

Michael caught a fly ball to left for the second out in the top of the 5th inning.

photo courtesy of Dan Mendlik via TribeVibe

then right before his third plate appearance of the game in the bottom of the 5th inning, the White Sox made a pitching change, bringing in lefty Aaron Bummer. with 1 out, pinch runner Erlin Cerda at 1st base, and the Tribe up, 3-2, Michael was hit by a pitch after an 0-1 count. and he stayed in the game to get one more at bat.

the Indians were losing, 6-4, when he had his fourth PA in the bottom of the 7th inning. with Cerda at 1st base again, Michael hit a ground-rule double down the right field line against right-handed pitcher Michael Ynoa after a 1-0 count. it was his first extra base hit of the spring. he was then lifted for a pinch runner.

photo courtesy of Dan Mendlik via TribeVibe

note: this was the first time he played 7 innings in a game this spring.

March 26: initially, Michael was not in the starting lineup even though he was supposed to be playing the second game of another back-to-back set. Bastian tweeted that due to all the morning confusion (of optioning players and letting others know that they would not be making the team), he was accidentally left out. so when Michael saw that his name was not there, he carried the lineup sheet into the trainer's room, per Bastian, and got himself slotted in. Lewis later reassured that Michael's omission was a clerical error and when Michael discovered it, he took the lineup off the wall, "as we all know he can do," Tito endorsed.

once everything got straightened out, Michael was batting 2nd and starting in left field against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

photo courtesy of @Indians on twitter

in his first AB of the game in the top of the 1st inning against lefty Robbie Ray, with Austin Jackson at 1st base, Michael hit a 2-run home run to right field on a fastball after a 1-0 count. that was his first HR of the spring (which is more than Edwin Encarnacion had at this point in Cactus League play!), and his first go-ahead hit and go-ahead RBI as well. here's the indians.com video.

Knott got some airtime with Rosey on WTAM 1100 for part of the game again and during Michael's first AB, he noted that the trip out to Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale is a 40 minute drive. and with the Indians having to face a tough left-handed pitcher, it said a lot about Michael that he wanted to be a part of the day's lineup. Bastian's indians.com article further supplied that Michael's response to being left out of the first lineup was a strong indicator that he is feeling good.

after the homer, Knott also made it public that, despite earlier reports, Francona said Michael doesn't need to have a certain number of at bats to be ready for Opening Day, and that they're just looking for consistency from him.

Michael's second at bat against Ray came in the top of the 2nd inning with Cleveland up, 5-0, Jackson at 1st base again, and 1 out. after a 1-1 count, he hit a fly ball to left field.

in his third at bat, he faced Ray in the top of the 4th inning with 1 out and the Tribe ahead, 6-2. after a 1-2 count, Michael tried to check his swing, but couldn't, and so he struck out swinging.

defensively, Michael made a "smooth" running catch near the left field foul line to end the bottom of the 6th inning.

then he led off the top of the 7th inning against right-hander Archie Bradley with the Indians leading, 6-3. in Michael's fourth and final AB of the game, he hit a ground ball to 2nd base after a 1-2 count.

when the game ended, Lewis tweeted that taking the lineup sheet off the wall was just a little joke for head athletic trainer James Quinlan, so Michael alleged.

as for his home run, "it's just the product of a good swing," Michael rationalized in a postgame video on indians.com. "you go up there and try to take the most consistent swings as possible--anything to help the team at that time. hopefully, the swings get better as this season gets closer.

"i'm doing well, i'm very excited. every day i wake up with a smile on my face, get to put on a Major League uniform, it's a blessing."

March 27: on a scheduled off day, Bastian tweeted that Francona informed the media that when Michael joins the team--on Opening Day or later on--he would likely be the #3 hitter.😍

Lewis later posted on twitter that Tito's plan for Michael was for him to play 3 games in a row. Lewis followed that with how the Indians don't want to push Michael too soon or make Opening Day the end-all benchmark for his rehab.

"he looks very good," Francona lauded in Bastian's indians.com article. "he feels very good. it's pretty exciting. i just don't want to put more on his plate, because he's done such a terrific job. again, it's gone well. i'd rather have it be going like that than the other way."

Tito still won't commit to Michael being ready for Opening Day. "i think there's a chance. i just don't think we know--only because we're trying to be fair to him. rather than, like last year, [when] he pushed so hard for Opening Day. and it's important. having your players is important. but, we need to make sure we do right by him, because that will end up being right by us. we're just trying to be fair."

and from Bastian's blog on bastian.mlblogs.com, Francona continued, "he also needs to feel like, in his own head, 'OK, i can play three.' but, maybe he needs more reps. maybe he needs to get a little beat up. there's just a lot of things that would go into it. he's worked so hard that he's in a good spot. i would hate to put the Opening Day as [a benchmark]. either he's really ready or he's not." besides that, the manager again denoted that 50 at bats is not a requirement for Michael. "no. it's really not."

Tito additionally referenced the stability that a healthy Brantley provides. "you put him out in left field pretty much every day and you just let him go. you don't pinch hit. you don't worry about defense. probably hit him third and it's just one position you know is accounted for. and that allows you to maybe do things at other positions where you can get more production."

March 28: before the game against the Milwaukee Brewers, Bastian tweeted that Antonetti conveyed the hope is that Michael will be on the Opening Day roster, and he's progressing really well, but the team is still taking it day by day.

Michael bat 2nd and started in left field.

photo courtesy of @Indians on twitter

in Michael's first at bat in the top of the 1st inning, with Tyler Naquin at 1st base, he hit a ground ball single to right field against right-handed starter Junior Guerra after an 0-1 count.

with the Tribe down, 2-1, Michael led off the top of the 3rd inning against Guerra and on the 6th pitch of a 2-2 count, he hit a fly ball to right field for a double. the pitch sequence went: strike, ball, ball, foul, foul, double. he later scored a run on Diaz's double.

in Michael's third plate appearance in the top of the 4th inning with the Indians up, 4-2, he drew a 2-out walk off Guerra after a 3-2 count. (most of that can be seen in this indians.com video.)

defensively, Michael ran a long way to catch a fly ball in short left field for the first out in the bottom of the 5th inning.

Michael's fourth PA came against righty Carlos Torres in the top of the 6th inning with Gonzalez at 3rd base, 2 outs, and the Indians behind, 5-4. he swung at the first pitch and hit a ground ball to the 2nd baseman to end the top half of the inning. he was then subbed out of left field after playing 5 innings.

"right now, it's just a question of building up volume," Antonetti verbalized in Bastian's blog on bastian.mlblogs.com. "as long as that continues to go in the right direction, then we'll be in a good spot for the start of the season.

"[we've been] really encouraged by the way Michael's met every one of the checkpoints and the way he's progressed through spring. even at this point last year, there was still a bit of apprehension with Michael, and we're not seeing any of that right now. in fact, he's kind of chomping at the bit to want to do more, because he's feeling so good. now, we have the responsibility to make sure we remain thoughtful in building up his volume and putting him in a position to succeed over the long-term, but Michael's in a really good spot right now and hopefully that'll continue."

March 29: before the game against the Reds, Bastian disclosed, via Tito, that if Michael is back, he's probably No. 3 (in the lineup).

Michael bat 3rd and started in left field.

photo courtesy of @Indians on twitter

in his first at bat against left-hander Brandon Finnegan in the top of the 1st inning with 2 outs, he struck out swinging on the 5th pitch of an 0-2 count. the first two pitches were called strikes, the second of which Michael disagreed with, and the next two pitches he fouled off before swinging and missing.

in the bottom of the 1st inning, with the Indians already down, 2-0, Michael caught a chest high liner to left for the first out.

Michael's second AB came in the top of the 2nd inning with Roberto Perez at 2nd base, Santana at 1st, 2 outs, and the Indians leading, 4-3. after a 1-0 count, he hit a ground ball single to right field off Finnegan, but Perez was thrown out at home plate to end the top of the inning. indians.com has that video.

Michael led off the top of the 5th inning with the game tied at 4. facing new Reds pitcher Louis Coleman, a right-hander, he hit a go-ahead home run to deep right-center field after a 2-2 count in his third at bat! the pitch sequence went: strike, ball, ball, foul, homer. watch it in this indians.com video.

in Michael's fourth at bat in the top of the 6th inning, he was up against righty Nefi Ogando with 1 out and the Indians on top, 8-5. on the first pitch, he hit a ground ball up the middle to 2nd base for the second out. indians.com also provided that video.

then Michael was again replaced in left field for the remainder of the contest.

here are some photos from the game:

photos courtesy of Dan Mendlik via TribeVibe

from Bastian's postgame blog on bastian.mlblogs.com, Tito pointed out, "Michael hasn't played in a while. you could tell he had a little extra giddy-up in his step there [after the home run]. he's worked so hard that, every time something good happens, i'm so happy for him. i mean, for so long, he's kind of been the heart and soul of our team. and, when he didn't play for a while, he got left out of all the excitement. it's just nice to see him back in the swing of things, getting dirty and just being the normal every day player."

futhermore, after the announcement was made this morning that Lonnie Chisenhall would be opening the season on the 10-Day DL, Francona conferred with Michael, per Hoynsie's cleveland.com article. "what i did tell Brantley this morning is 'don't read anything into this. there is no pressure on you. every decision is based on the person. we'll figure out the team part of it.' i wanted to make sure he understood that it (wasn't) 'there's pressure on him now and he has to be ready.' what we really care about is him continuing to be healthy. whether that's the first day (of the season), the third day or the fifth day. if he's healthy, we're all going to be happy." 

March 30: Francona tackled the topic of Michael's status for Opening Day in the afternoon. from Bastian's twitter photo, the skipper mentioned, "i spent some time with him today. he's in a pretty good spot. i think out of respect to him, and his situation, there's no reason we need to say something today, other than that he is in a really good place and he continues to trend in the right place. ...it'll get figured out. i just don't think Chris or i feel the need that we have to say something today. we've been trying to be fair to him all spring."

in his final Cactus League game, Michael bat 3rd and started in left field against the D-backs at their Major League Ballpark, Chase Field.

photo courtesy of @Indians on twitter

with Lindor at 1st base and 1 out in the top of the 1st inning, Michael hit a double play ball back to right-handed pitcher Taijuan Walker on the 7th pitch of a 3-2 count. the sequence went: ball, pickoff attempt, called strike, ball, called strike, ball, pickoff attempt, foul, ground ball double play. indians.com posted that video.

Michael's next trip to the plate occurred in the top of the 4th inning with 1 out and the Indians behind, 2-0. after a 2-1 count, he hit a line shot into left field for a single. the sequence went: ball, ball, foul, single.

in his third AB in the top of the 6th inning with Diaz at 3rd base, Santana at 2nd, 1 out, and the Indians down, 5-0, he faced left-hander Andrew Chafin. after a 1-1 count, he hit a ground ball to the 2nd baseman, who threw Michael out at 1st. however, Diaz scored the first Indians run and Michael was credited with an RBI groundout. the sequence went: ball, called strike, groundout. that short video is on indians.com as well.

Michael did not play the bottom of the 6th, and so his spring ended with that RBI groundout. thanks to his single earlier in the game though, he did finish with a 5-game hitting streak.

photo courtesy of @Indians on twitter

in Lewis' postgame article on ohio.com, Francona expressed, "he won't play tomorrow. he was allowed to have another at bat. i just thought he's played three in a row, he's swinging the bat good. i don't want him to do more than the other guys. that's not fair, either. but, i think he's doing fine. and, more importantly, he feels good about himself."

March 31: at long last, Francona addressed whether or not Michael will be on the Opening Day roster, sort of. from Bastian's indians.com article, he teased, "we don't have to announce our roster [until Sunday]. but, it's not like it's going to be a big secret. we're not trying to keep it a secret. i mean, we're taking 25 guys and he's one of them."

the revelation left fans confused, so Bastian tweeted that Francona said MB is in the plans, but plans can change. then Bastian issued a follow-up tweet, repeating that Michael's in the plans for the 25-man roster, but Francona stressed that things can change (but they probably won't). so yes, Michael will travel with the Indians to Texas and, save for something unexpected, he'll be on the roster and in the starting lineup on April 3.

Bastian's article also included how earlier in the week, Tito met with Michael and urged him to enjoy having all his work over the past 18 months finally pay off. "it was kind of hard not to get moist in the eyes. we're proud of him. we're happy for him. we're happy for us. he's such a good kid and he's such a good teammate. he's so much a part of what we want to do."

after 6 pm, Bastian tweeted that Michael had been working with his dad, Mickey, in the batting cage for the past hour. Mickey divulged to Bastian that he comes when Michael calls and vowed his swing looks great. "mentally, he's ready," Brantley, Sr. acclaimed in Bastian's indians.com article. "i told him, 'are you ready?' i'm asking him. he said, 'pops, i'm ready.' he doesn't know what to expect, missing that much time. but he's in a good place right now."

"i don't know how i'm going to feel that day," Michael speculated about Opening Day. "just knowing how hard i worked, and how we worked, to get back to this situation. nothing was guaranteed, nothing was promised. it was a lot of hard work that paid off. i'm just very appreciative of everything that everyone has done to get me to this level again.

"i didn't put any expectations on anything. i just wanted to make sure that i came in with a clean slate every day and communicated the best i could about how i felt. and i kept challenging myself. small steps at a time, but everything went well, and i feel blessed and fortunate to be out there with my teammates Opening Day. i'm very excited about it."

Bastian documented Michael's gratitude for all his support as well. "it's very appreciated that people understand that i didn't give up." not everybody understood that, but i'm not gonna call out anyone specific--you know who you are and you're most definitely not even reading this blog lol

lastly, the skipper advised Michael, "i said, 'take a minute and enjoy this. you went without baseball for a long time, and you missed it. enjoy it.' because, he's always pushing, which is what good players do. but i want him to take a second and enjoy having the game back, because it's so meaningful to him."

**END OF CACTUS LEAGUE PLAY**

April 2: the Indians roster had to be submitted by noon today and, drum roll please...Michael Brantley made the cut!

photo courtesy of @Indians on twitter
photo courtesy of @clevelanddotcom on twitter

not only that, but Bastian tweeted out the first portion of the batting order for April 3, which listed Brantley in the 3rd spot! he's back! wahoo!

Lewis' afternoon article on ohio.com had some final musings from Francona, who couldn't help but look Michael's way during their short team meeting earlier. "i hope he is really happy, because he's earned it. we haven't even played a game yet but he's come so far. that's why i tried to remind him the other day, 'hey, take a second and enjoy this because man you deserve it.' but watching him sit back there, i'm sure he's filled with a lot of emotions because he's been through a lot."


MY THOUGHTS:

now let me end this extremely long blog with some of my thoughts. at this time last year, i had a lot of reservations about Michael returning to game action too soon. this year, i can't say that because the Indians took things a lot slower. here is one more look at the timelines:

DRY SWINGS: approximately February 15, 2016 vs. late December 2016
HITTING OFF A TEE: February 20, 2016 vs. approximately January 18, 2017
SOFT TOSS: February 29, 2016 vs. February 16 or 18, 2017
BATTING PRACTICE in the INDOOR CAGE: March 6, 2016 vs. February 24, 2017
BATTING PRACTICE on the FIELD: March 11, 2016 vs. February 27, 2017
PLAYING IN SIMULATED GAMES: N/A vs. March 6, 2017
PLAYING IN MINOR LEAGUE GAMES: March 17, 2016 vs. March 15, 2017
PLAYING IN CACTUS LEAGUE GAMES: March 19, 2016 vs. March 20, 2017


he clearly was not rushed with this rehab. still, as Michael once again had to recover from surgery this winter, he was unable to execute his usual offseason preparations routine and experience a full spring training. obviously, he didn't do any cage work on his own before arriving at Goodyear. and he didn't take nearly his preferred amount of batting practice in spring, especially when compared to his teammates, or get the number of at bats in games that he would have had he come into camp healthy. but Michael's nickname isn't Dr. Smooth for nothing. he has a very simple, smooth swing and as a result, he doesn't need a whole lot of time to prepare himself for the season. good thing.

while he may be ready in that regard, i think it's fair for people to wonder how he's going to perform in games this year. and because he is indeed trying to make a comeback from surgery, it's also justifiable to question how is that shoulder/biceps going to handle the daily grind of a baseball season, even if he doesn't play every day. remember, Michael hasn't appeared in a game with the Indians since May 9, 2016. he's going to need extra days off, particularly in the beginning of the year. and he may start out 2017 a little on the slow side offensively and, in essence, use April as an extended spring training, but that's okay. i expect him to require a handful of games against Major League pitching to fully get his timing back at the plate. then after he's accumulated more ABs, look out!πŸ˜‰

that said, i know there are many skeptics out there who won't truly feel comfortable and confident about Michael until he has played through at least May or even June without a setback occurring. all we can do is wait and see and think good thoughts (and GREAT health!). the doctors have done all they could do and Michael carried out his rehab exactly like he was supposed to. and there was a noticeable difference in him this spring compared to last spring. his demeanor was really positive and he was having a lot of fun, which i took as a sign that he's legitimately healthy. his shoulder and biceps have to be good to go now. otherwise, where's the justice in this world?

go Brantley! we're rooting for you! disabled list, be damned! i hope he never sees time on that thing again!


even though Michael's offseason rehab and spring are over now, that doesn't mean i'm gonna stop tweeting news about him. so follow me on twitter @clevelandgirl23 to ensure that you don't miss out on anything during the season! and if you're not on my subscription list yet, you can sign up for that under the Blog Archive sidebar over on the upper right side of the page to receive email notifications whenever i post a new blog.

for all of Michael's Cactus League rehab number breakdowns and statistics, please read my Part 2 blog:
Brantley's Cactus League 2017 Rehab #s and My Predictions

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