i decided to write this blog to have some place to refer back to, with everything all listed out very clearly, just in case i need it at a later date. we don't know if this lower back strain will cause Michael to be shut down again or put on the DL at any point this season. although, after playing in 6 straight games with no further mention of any issues, things finally look promising. fingers crossed it stays that way.
first it was a sore lower back, then it was a tight lower back, and then it was a stiff lower back. idk if all those are technically the same thing medically, but it was not pleasant news to hear. eventually an MRI confirmed that Michael had a
lower back strain, and he will undoubtedly be dealing with it in some capacity all season.
cognizant that Michael came to camp on February 22 with this (pre-existing) problem, i deduced that he developed it in the offseason, most likely while in the midst of his extra hard training. (read Brantley's Offseason Regimen & 2015 Preparations for much more detailed info about those specifics.) my usual spring training excitement turned into immediate concerns and i feared that this would be on-going all season. hate to say i anticipated it but while others were trying to downplay this, i knew better.
i of course kept track of every bit of back news and daily updates, starting with when the conundrum initially came to light in spring. here is the official Michael Brantley back issue timeline:
February 24: first full-squad team workout. news broke that Michael came to camp with lower back soreness. he therefore did not participate in the position players endurance test and would be hitting in the indoor batting cages.
February 26: Michael took bp outside, no more reported back issues.
March 2: the Indians released their starting lineup for their first Cactus League game on March 3, and Michael was not in it.
March 4: Michael still not in the Indians lineup.
March 5: Michael played in his first spring game and went 0-for-3.
Michael played games on March 7, March 9, March 11, and March 13 (getting regular off days on the even # dates) and there was no mention of any back problems. he was supposed to play again on March 15, but had to skip it because he contracted the flu.
March 17: Michael played and went 0-for-2 with a walk.
March 19: Michael played and went 2-for-3 with 2 singles and an RBI.
March 20: Michael played, with back tightness, and went 1-for-3 with a double.
March 21: regular off day for Michael.
March 22: Michael played with back tightness and went 1-for-3 with a single.
March 23: Michael played with back tightness and went 2-for-3 with 2 singles and 2 runs.
March 24 & 25: not in lineup.
March 26-28: out with back tightness.
March 29: Michael played after 5 days off and went 1-for-3 with a single. no more reported back issues through the end of spring (April 4).
(there is a much more detailed account of Michael's back issue as it popped up in spring, per day, in my Brantley's Spring Training 2015 #s blog.)
April 6: Michael played in the Indians' first regular season game and went 0-for-4.
April 7: Indians off day.
April 8: late scratch from the lineup with lower back stiffness. he reached for something and it grabbed at him. listed as day-to-day.
April 9: still not in the lineup, team was being cautious. Michael would be examined and have an MRI in Cleveland on April 10.
April 10: Michael had the MRI in Cleveland, which revealed a lower back strain. he said he felt fine and really wanted to play in the Indians Home Opener this day, so he did, going 1-for-4 with an RBI double.
April 11: out again with the lower back strain, could be out a couple games. he experienced lower back spasms late during the April 10 game, Francona admitted he should have sat him another day. no one thought a DL stint was necessary.
April 12: back feeling slightly better. hope was he'd play April 14.
April 13: Indians off day.
April 14: went through full pregame workout, possible return April 15 but the team was really aiming for April 17 since they had off on April 16. also, Michael saw specialists beyond the team doctors and they didn't think the issue would linger.
April 15: still out, but he hit in the batting cage and did work in the outfield before the game. should start on April 17.
April 16: Indians off day.
April 17: in the lineup but not playing the field. he was the game's DH, going 2-for-5 with 2 singles.
April 18: in the lineup and played left field, going 0-for-3 with a walk.
after this point, i heard nothing about his back other than it was feeling much better.
April 19: in the lineup and played left, going 1-for-4 with an RBI single.
April 20: in the lineup and played left, going 1-for-4 with an RBI double.
April 21: in the lineup and played left, going 2-for-4 with 2 singles, 1 RBI, and 1 run.
April 22: in the lineup as the DH, going 0-for-3 with a walk.
that's the daily sum up, but you didn't think i'd leave out all the details, quotes, and my thoughts, did you? lol
when Michael was taken out of the starting lineup on April 8, Terry Francona told reporters he was perplexed by Michael's back issue. "he wanted to play so bad. we just don't want to do something that prolongs it. i'd rather it be a day or two than a week or two. he's battled this on and off all spring. we just want to get a handle on it. the doctors looked at him and i don't think there's any concern structurally, but it hurts. we'll see how he feels [Thursday] and we'll certainly get him looked at when we get home."
that did nothing for my anxiety because Francona basically said the same thing in spring. they wanted to rest him for a few days then and get the back situation under control so it wouldn't carry over into the regular season. i was surprised Michael came back and played as much as he did in that final week of spring, but took it for granted that everything was okay, even though i feared it may not have been. and now here we were, worst fear realized. the season had just started and the back tightness was back.
on the morning of April 9, Francona provided an update on Michael, saying, "he's a little stiff. we'll try to stay away from him today and get him looked at tomorrow, just to get a little more clarity. the doctors who have all looked at him think they have a bead on it, but it just keeps acting up on him. hopefully the more information we get, the better feel we have and we can get him back out there playing."
before the Indians Opener on April 10, which Michael did play in, he did an interview and it rubbed me the wrong way because he was joking around a little bit and acting like this serious issue was not that serious. when Hoynsie asked him if he'd had an MRI earlier that morning, he replied, "maybe, maybe not." this was no time for silliness. i didn't like that. Chris Antonetti confirmed that he did have an MRI and it showed that everything was structurally sound; Michael had a lower back strain.
Michael said, "i had some lower back discomfort. it's something we've had to work through. we have a great medical staff that's going to get me through it. we're going to do just fine. i'll do whatever i have to do to make sure i stay on that field every day."
changing the tone of his interview, he added, "you never want anything to linger. i'm not happy about it. but at the same time i'm taking steps in the right direction to be where i have to be to get back in the lineup."
Francona elaborated on Michael's condition, "i think it's pretty much like... when you get your lower back that hurts and you tweak it, some days it grabs at you. he was evaluated today and everything is good, which is really good. but we'll keep an eye on him. if he needs a day off, we can certainly do that. we don't ever want to turn something that could be a day or two into two weeks. it's nice having him back in the lineup, that's for sure."
Michael also told the media that everything looked good and he was feeling much better. "we're in a good spot. i'm very excited to get back out there with my teammates."
Michael ended up playing the entire Tribe Home Opener game on April 10,
and that was a mistake. when i saw he was in the lineup for the day, i
definitely questioned whether that was the right move. i assumed he just
really wanted to play in the Home Opener game and be introduced as a
starter. i even thought maybe Francona would replace him in the lineup
after being intro'd. that didn't happen, but it probably should have.
it came out on April 11 that Michael felt spasms in his lower back late in the April 10 game, and so he would be sitting out his 3rd game of the season. it was also likely that Michael would not play on April 12 either, especially because the team had a day off on April 13.
Francona admitted he should have rested Michael for the Home Opener. "i probably got a little carried away yesterday. i was so excited when he came in and said he could play. i probably should've stepped back and probably said, 'no, you're not playing.' you kind of live and learn. he wants to play so bad. i just think we need to let this thing settle down, whether that's today, today and tomorrow, we'll see. but, we've got a day off on Monday. i just want him to have a chance to go out and play and be himself. i think it's hard for him right now to do that."
as for a possible DL stint, the team was still against it. "i don't think anybody thinks we need to," Francona said. "if we ever did need to, we would. i'd rather try to sit him for a day or two and have him for 12. he's a pretty good player. when you're dealing with injuries or things like this, you listen to the medical people, you listen to the player, and you try to make good decisions."
after the game, Michael declined to speak to reporters, something he rarely does. i took that as a sure fire sign that his back was much more of an issue than he wanted it to be the day before.
on April 12, Michael was presented with his 2014 AL OF Silver Slugger Award, but he was still not going to play in that day's game. said Francona, "he feels slightly better today. i think with the day off tomorrow, if we could just give him today off, i think we'll have a ton more information after this off day."
while a trip to the DL was still not in the cards at this time, Francona did say that if Michael had to miss 4 or 5 games, then they'd have to consider putting him on the disabled list. "that's not the plan right now, but if it needs to be, we would. i think the trainers just want to get a little better handle on this, talking to some other medical people that maybe have a little more expertise in that area just so we make good decisions."
on April 14, the lineup was released once again without Michael's name in it. Jordan Bastian reported that Michael would go through his full pregame workout anyways. because the Indians had yet another off day this week (on April 16), it was probable that Michael would not play in the April 15 game either, which would give him a full 6 days off. then if there wasn't any regression, he might get clearance to play on April 17.
"i think he's really trending in a good way," Francona told reporters. "if you see him playing tomorrow, he's perfect. because with the day off [Thursday], we want to make sure we get him going in the right direction and keep him going in the right direction."
"there's not a real big name for his injury," Francona continued. "it's just like you or me. when you tweak that area, when it wants to hurt, it hurts. it hasn't just gone on, it's come back a couple of times. he's tweaked it a few times."
it was also revealed that Michael had been looked at extensively by medical experts, including specialists not on the club's staff, who believed that his issue would not linger. but, hello, it's been lingering since at least February 22 so... i didn't necessary buy that.
"i don't think it's going to keep him out the rest of the season for sure," added Francona. "can we swear it will never happen again? no, but he's been looked at by the best and they've pretty much concluded that, when he's able to play, he's not going to hurt himself and he's going to be okay. we're just trying to give him a chance so he doesn't feel he's going out there at 70%."
before the April 15 game, Michael hit in the batting cage and did some work in the outfield, but he was still not going to play in that game. Francona again said, "i think he's headed in a good direction." it sounded as though Michael would be starting on April 17 in the Indians' 9th game of the season/his 3rd game.
on April 17, Michael returned to the starting lineup, but he was the DH for the game. before the game, Francona said Michael would be back in left field on April 18 if everything went well with his back. "i went in (to Progressive Field) on Thursday and watched him work out. the last thing i want to do is get so overanxious to write his name in the lineup that i make a mistake."
"but he's done a real good job of doing what he's supposed to," added Francona. "that's why i told him he wouldn't play left field both days. he doesn't like DHing, but the trainers were pretty strong that this would be good for him."
"it's very frustrating," Michael said. "you never want to miss time. you always want to be out there with your team. that's the most frustrating part. we gotta figure out why it's doing
it. we're trying to get a good game plan to what we can do to stop it. i'm going to take it one day at a time. that's all i can do.
"i've seen a lot of doctors. too many doctors. it's just kind of lingered. it's something that i can't really explain, but we're trying to get ahead of it. we know what we have to do to keep it strong, and i'm going to continue to rehab and make sure that we're in there for as many games as possible."
after the game, Francona had this to say about Michael's two-hit game. "i'm sure he's not in midseason form. he hasn't hit in a week--at least in a game. but, he still finds ways to get hits. his presence in the lineup makes everybody else better, so it's nice to have him back."
how long Michael will be back remains to be seen, but i've only heard positive things about how he's doing and how his back is feeling since he's returned to games.
so how has Michael done since being back in action? after having a week off, he played 6 straight games with no mention of any setbacks, which is great. in those 6 games, Michael bat .261 (6-for-23) with 1 double, 3 RBI, 1 run, and 2 walks. he's mostly been having quality at bats, another good sign, and, as usual, he was robbed of a few hits when he hit some line drives.
through today's game, Michael is batting .226 (7-for-31) with 2 doubles, 4 RBI, 2 runs, and 2 walks in 8 games. all things considered, he's not doing too horribly, but it's still a slow start for him and certainly below average. and there were definitely games where i questioned if his back was okay due to his performance; it may very well be like that all year.
this back strain has already affected his ability to play the season "normally." what do i mean by that? well at this point in time, when the Indians play a day game after a night game, Michael does not see time in the field in both games. he will DH in one, and play left in the other. idk if that will be the routine for the entire rest of the year, but that's how Tito wants to do things right now so Michael doesn't overexert himself in the field and potentially re-aggravate that back.
also, he has not attempted to steal any bases yet, and i can conclude that's due to a fear of tweaking his back on the slide. then again, he hasn't been on base an abundance of times in order to steal either. but maybe as the season progresses, he will begin to feel more comfortable and get back to being a thief on the bases.
i'm extremely aware that missing 6 games so early has put Michael "behind." the Brantley stats hound in me can't help but dwell on how it's gonna take longer now for him to become a qualifier with his stats this year. if he doesn't get any other games off this month, then he should officially be a qualifying player after the 1st or 2nd game in May (if i did my calculations correctly).
as a direct result of his time missed, he's at a disadvantage as far as trying to set new career highs in certain categories as well. it's a fact that he won't set a new career high in games played this year. having already sat out 6 games, and knowing he will get more days off in the upcoming months, he sure as heck can't top the 156 games he played in last year. it's also almost a given that he won't set a new high in plate appearances or at bats either, not unless a lot of games go to extras. sigh. new records may not have come again for Michael this season regardless, but grasping that they'll be harder to attain because he was out hurt this year is a tough pill to swallow.
at the end of the day, i know that's all trivial. Michael doesn't care about or strive to set career highs. i think i'm just still relishing in his outstanding season last year, and i really want him to replicate that, so i might be putting some unfair/unrealistic expectations on him for 2015. but believe me, i know the most important thing is that Michael is healthy enough to be able to play again and that he stays healthy enough to play.
the question remains: was his 6-day break a sufficient amount of time to truly help Michael so that he can play the next 5 months without his back interrupting his season? or will this strain ultimately land Michael on the DL? i can't not worry that this will linger all year and, as a result, hurt his numbers and productivity. and that makes me sad. 2015 should have been such an exciting time for Michael, and right now it's still quite uncertain. all we can do is stay positive and hope the worst is behind him.
many thanks to Paul Hoynes, Jordan Bastian, Zack Meisel, T.J. Zuppe, and Chris Assenheimer for providing me with the quotes that i used in this blog.
and don't forget! join my mailing list to receive emails every time i post a new blog about Michael! you can also see daily pertinent Michael Brantley news on my twitter, @clevelandgirl23.