Thursday, March 17, 2016

Brantley's March 2016 Hitting Advancements (Soft Toss to ON THE FIELD BP!)

so um, i don't know if you've heard...but i figure i should probably blog about the fact that...Michael Brantley is now playing in spring games! i repeat, Michael Brantley is now playing in spring games! how awesome is that?! bravo to a man who absolutely killed it in his rehab and crushed his original timetable.

when news of Michael's shoulder surgery broke back on November 9, 2015, i questioned whether or not he would be able to play in any games this spring, and if so, would he even get to play with the Indians in the big league camp? while the latter remains to be seen, hearing this good news is still very exciting and i'm extremely grateful for Michael's swift progress.

note: Terry Francona spoke with the media yesterday and officially announced that Michael would make his game debut on March 17 in a minor league game, but i wanted to wait and be sure it actually happened before i went ahead and posted this blog.

despite the month of March not being over, i didn't like the idea of combining Michael's hitting program updates with his spring training/rehab game info. therefore, this post will simply consist of Michael's continued hitting advancements in March up until today, his "game activation" point. then,
once he has completed all his necessary rehab games, i will blog about his performance in them separately.

if you're not caught up with all my previous blogs on Michael's recovery progression, here are those links:
Brantley Has Right Shoulder Surgery (November 2015) 
Brantley News From the Winter Meetings (early December 2015)
Brantley Health Updates (late December 2015)
Brantley Shoulder Rehab Progression (January 2016)
Brantley Hitting Program News (February 2016)

and now let's get to the March updates:

March 1: during the first spring game, Indians GM Mike Chernoff was a guest in the WTAM 1100 booth with Tom Hamilton. Chernoff mentioned that Michael's on or ahead of schedule, he's checking out great, and will probably push the timeline. once he's healed and ready to play in games, the question will be is he gonna need 20 games out on a rehab assignment, or only 5 or 10?

before the day's game, Michael was interviewed by Greg Amsinger as part of MLB Network's 30 Clubs in 30 Days, which aired on TV that night at 7 pm. when asked about being named the #1 Left Fielder by The Shredder, Michael responded, "it's obviously an honor, and it's something that i'm proud of."

not surprisingly, Greg also had to ask when is he gonna be back in full uni? "my goal is Opening Day, and if it's not Opening Day, it's any day after that. i'm not gonna sell myself short, i'm not gonna pull up a day if i'm feeling good. whenever that day is, when the training staff and doctors clear me, i'll be out there with my teammates."

the full interview can be found here.

i also came across an article on the USA Today website that had a quote from Michael regarding his soft toss hitting drills from the previous day. "it's more of the fact of just finding the contact point of my swing to make sure the ball's getting deep and into the zone i want."

March 2: Jordan Bastian tweeted that Francona remains optimistic that Michael is ahead of the initial timetable (late April/early May), and the next step in his rehab will be BP in the batting cage before advancing to BP on the field. when replying to a fan tweet, Bastian explained that the speed/unpredictability of ball movement tests different aspects of the shoulder, and that these advancements in his hitting program gradually increase his swing intensity.

more about Michael's current and future hitting routine came from Bastian's article on presently, he's taking part in soft toss hitting sessions in the indoor batting cage at the Arizona training facility. when the training staff feels he's ready to take another step, he will take batting practice in the cage. Michael will need to hit in live batting practice or in a simulated environment before being cleared to play in spring games, and there is no timetable for that right now.

in addition to Bastian, Zack Meisel also provided some of Tito's thoughts on Michael's progression and potential return date in his afternoon post on "i don't think it's going to be that long. but in fairness to him, you start putting a day out there and if he's a week late... he's doing everything he can to be ready. that's good enough for us. we've told him we don't want him coming back until he's ready.

"he's trying to push to get ready. in fairness to him, if i say that [he'll be back for the opener on April 4] and then he doesn't play on Opening Day, it's like, 'well, what happened?' that's not fair to him. he's doing a really good job of getting ready."

"there's significant progression to go," Francona informed reporters. "the good news is he's doing great. the hitting guys come back and say, 'he looks great.' nobody knows exactly how quickly somebody is going to [progress]. whatever you're doing, if you have to back it up, that's kind of normal. but he's kind of flown through this. now, to his credit, he spent a ton of time in Cleveland [in the offseason]. then, instead of going home, he came out here. so, he has given himself every chance possible to get better as quickly as possible. we appreciate it. guys don't have to do that. they have families and kids and stuff. he really understands how much we rely on him."

also uploaded today on the FOX Sports Ohio youtube channel was a short video of Michael practicing bunting. i remember seeing photos of him bunting on February 24, so i'm pretty sure this video is from then.

March 3: in a snippet from Meisel's morning article on, he wrote that Francona was asked how many at bats Michael would need in exhibition games before he was ready for the regular season. Tito replied, "i've seen a guy get three games and he comes out and is your hottest hitter. it's unbelievable how that works. my guess is when Brantley is fully healthy, it's not going to be the at bats as much as just bouncing back every day. his swing is so simple."

during this day's game, Francona talked with Rick Manning and Matt Underwood on the FOX Sports broadcast about Michael. he emphasized that "we do have to keep an eye on him and make sure, not that he's just ready to hit, but that he's ready to answer the bell day after day after day. cause that's the hard thing... build up the endurance and things where you're not stiff the next day and you can still be productive."

March 4: Bastian included an excerpt in his article on saying Michael has increased both the intensity and volume of his workouts, but is still in the soft toss stage of his hitting program. he's also been tracking pitches in live batting practice. "he's just continuing to do very well," Francona declared. "the volume has been picking up, increasing pretty well. he's trying to do everything he can, so as he gets the go-ahead, he's not hindered in another area."

March 5: Bastian tweeted that Michael has a scheduled re-check with a doctor for his right shoulder on Sunday [March 6] and that he's still doing well.

March 6: Paul Hoynes tweeted that Dr. Morgan--the doctor who performed Michael's shoulder surgery--was in Goodyear for Michael's scheduled check up. Bastian added there were no setbacks and that it was just a routine follow up.

Francona indicated that the results of Michael's examination would give the Indians an idea of how to continue with his rehab, according to Hoynsie's article on in the afternoon. then in Hoynsie's night article, he wrote that Dr. Morgan gave Michael the green light to continue his hitting program.

March 7: Bastian tweeted that Francona said Michael might be ready for BP on the field by the end of the week, and the Indians twitter account confirmed he will progress to cage batting practice this week.

Tito revealed more in Bastian's article on "it was all according to plan, which is all good," he said regarding Michael's re-check with Dr. Morgan on March 6. "there's no red flags, nothing. he just got a really good report."

the Indians discussed having Michael play the outfield (with no at bats) in the day's "B" game against the Cincinnati Reds, but Michael wanted to stick with his morning workout. the Indians were fine with that, considering how diligent he's been with his rehab, defense, and batting cage work each day. "he's worked really hard in the mornings," Francona praised. "i had talked to him about, 'hey, when you come back, we don't want you to be slowed down, because your legs are sore or something.' so he's worked really hard to make sure that won't happen."

March 9: Hoynsie's afternoon article on noted that Michael has been taking BP in the indoor cage since Dr. Morgan cleared him to on March 6 and the next step should come this weekend. "Friday or Saturday he should be on the field for BP," Francona proclaimed. "that is kind of the target. he's been flying through everything so well; i'd be surprised if he doesn't. i just want to be careful. he's done so well. if he's not on the field (Friday or Saturday) everybody will say what happened? he's so far ahead of where most people would be. a lot of that is attributable to how he's going about it."
**remember, this was the day Michael was first projected to pick up a bat after his surgery took place in November, so he's well ahead of schedule.

March 10: Jesse Sanchez (filling in for Bastian who went back home to Ohio to spend time with his family) tweeted that Michael is expected to hit on the field on Friday [March 11]. Sanchez quoted Tito in his article on as saying, "i think for him, every step is important and there's a progression, but it's kind of cool when you finally get on the field because, really, the next thing is the game."

"he's done really well and he's tolerated everything," Francona continued. "he's flown through the process. it's not by accident. he's done a terrific job of attacking everything that they have given him and not taking shortcuts. he's done a really good job. he doesn't move on unless he hits what he's supposed to. his volume, his intensity has built up and everything and he's ready to advance to the field or he wouldn't be going out there."

to the chagrin of many Tribe fans though, there is still no definitive return date for Michael. "it will be up to him especially, but also the medical people," Tito provided. "Opening Day is an artificial deadline. when he's ready to play, we'll play him. we are not going to hold him back, but we are not going to shortcut it, either. he's too important, but he's doing a good job."

March 11: Michael finally took batting practice in the cage on the field with his teammates:

photo courtesy of @Indians on twitter

and here are some media videos of the momentous event:
taken by Sanchez
taken by Andre Knott
taken by Indians snapchat via twitter

in an article on, Sanchez unveiled that Michael hit line drives all over the field and ran around the bases as Roberto Perez and Jose Ramirez swung in the cage. Sanchez also noted that after Michael's live BP session on the field, he hit off the tee in the batting cage.

"it's another step to getting closer to playing in the games," Michael said. "there was a little more excitement to be with the group of guys. i like it. that's probably the main thing, just being out there with your teammates and not having to go somewhere separate. i like having an entire day of working with the guys. i am excited where i am."

the plan going forward now is for Michael to continue taking batting practice on the field and "see how i feel when i wake up in the morning. i want to come back 100% and make sure that i'm ready to go to help my teammates win a ballgame."

Hoynsie additionally included a section about Michael in his afternoon article on, writing that he looked good during his on-the-field BP. Hoynsie further wrote that Francona talked to Michael about not overextending himself. "he said he went through that with his other shoulder and tried to come back too quick. that was the reality check he needed. he asked us to trust him. that's not a very hard thing to do. he's done such a good job. we don't want to hold him back. we just want to do it right and we want to be fair with him."

as for what Michael has done in his recovery, Tito's happy. "i would say everyone is so pleased with how it has gone. i don't foresee any complications moving forward. he's getting to the point now where we're building strength, endurance, and seeing pitches."

March 12: during the WTAM 1100 afternoon game broadcast, Hammy acknowledged that Michael has come along quicker than people imagined. he said Tito has to make sure they hold him back a little now. he looks good and feels good and Tito said he could play in games in a week to 10 days. Hammy further recognized that when Michael comes back, he needs to be the Michael we're used to because he's so important to the team.

later, Chris Antonetti visited with Hammy in the booth during the game and said Michael took batting practice on the field again today and hit line drives all over. they're not setting a date for Michael's return, they're just going to listen to Michael's body and how he's feeling. they want him back as soon as he's ready and not sooner. they need to make sure he doesn't have anything lingering in the shoulder.

then Antonetti disclosed the most exciting news of all when he remarked, "it looks like he'll join the club in the early part of April."

photo courtesy of @BurningRiverBB on twitter

in addition, BRB Joe tweeted that Michael's father Mickey was in Indians camp today and watched him take bp on the field.

Hammy also shared something interesting that Antonetti told him off the air--you can put a player on the DL to start the season and not have to miss 15 days, but only 7. you can backdate a DL start time 9 days from the start of the season into spring training. so Michael could only miss a week, or 6 games, if he keeps coming along like he is; he might only miss the first week of the regular season!

March 14: an excerpt in Hoynsie's evening article on stated that Francona said Michael's first game action could take place in a minor league game later this month.

Doug Miller, covering the Tribe for the day while Bastian was still off, included some more quotes from Tito in his postgame article on "i think it's going to be when he accomplishes everything and he and the trainers feel he's ready to play in a game. and we may be able to handle that a little bit when the minor leagues have a camp day. we might be able to get him at bats and work into it, so there's ways we can do it to kind of maybe shorten that up a little bit."

March 16: Bastian (back from his break at long last) tweeted that Francona announced Michael will make his game debut Thursday [March 17] in a minor league game. he will play 4-5 innings in the outfield and get a few at bats. his Cactus League debut, however, is still unknown at this point, and the Indians will discuss that with Michael soon. they need to keep in mind the March 25 cutoff date for backdating if he's going to open the regular season on the DL.

Bastian's article had more. "i don't think he's a big fan of wanting to play in minor league games. he wants to play in our games," Francona said. "that's fine. we're going to have to sit down with him and the trainers probably in the next week and just gauge, because if he does start on the DL, but he's really close, he can't play in Major League games at the end. so, we just need to explain that to him." the bottom line with this is if, for some reason, Michael did play in a Cactus League game after March 25, it would lengthen his stay on the DL during the regular season. (it's the difference between coming back the second week of April vs. the third week.)

Hoynsie provided some thoughts from Francona in his afternoon article on as well. "he's really progressing. he's done such a good job (rehabbing) that he's gone above and beyond what anybody realistically expected. if he doesn't play on Opening Day, just think about two months ago we were talking about the first of May. the kid has been spectacular in his rehab, so i don't want that to get lost and i don't want him to feel like we're pushing, pushing, pushing because that doesn't put him in a fair position."

Tito remained adamant about not publicizing a specific return date for Michael, but Michael maintains his goal is to be ready for Opening Day, and Francona likes that. "i actually think it's really helpful. players get competitive in everything they do, and it gives him something to shoot for. but when you really sit and think about it, if it's April 10, if it's April 20, it's not the end of the world. the more we have him available, the better, but i think it's been good for him. it gives him something to shoot for. it's just not the end all and be all, but i'm glad he's trying."

"we've been pretty honest about where we think he is," Francona told reporters. "he's done such a good job of pushing while cooperating. he hasn't done anything he's not supposed to do. yet, he's getting ready quick."

make no mistake, the Indians plan to balance Michael's rapid progress with caution. an important aspect of his comeback will be how he feels the day after increasing his activity. his condition the day after games will help in determining how to proceed with his rehab schedule.

"it's more [the] bouncing back," Francona stated. "if he plays and the next day is tough, well, maybe that's telling us something. he hasn't run into that yet. plus, he's a lot tougher [than people might think]. guys that are quiet, it doesn't mean that they're not tough. i think sometimes that gets lost. he does things seemingly so easy and so fluid, but he's a tough kid, man."

March 17: Michael debuted in a minor league game. details forthcoming in a new blog.

here's the thing. because Michael's so ahead of schedule and actually playing in spring games, i know a lot of people are anticipating/expecting that he will be ready for Opening Day on April 4 and end up not missing any part of the regular season after all. but i advise those fans not to get their hopes up too high. Michael's going to start with getting 2 or 3 at bats per game, and he's probably only going to play every other day. gradually he'll get more at bats, and then he's going to have to start appearing in back-to-back games and prove that there are no ill effects from that, hence Tito's bounce back concerns.

now that Michael has moved on to the final phase of his rehab, the true test is going to be seeing how his shoulder reacts to hitting every day and making sure there is no regression in his recovery. then and only then will he be cleared to play in regular season games. Michael has to be able to sustain a full 162-game season, whether he plays all 162 or not. so while i'm not convinced that the Indians will have him on the OD roster, i don't think he'll miss too much time when his rehab is all said and done. don't be discouraged, Brantley fans, cause we're getting closer and today was a good day!

make sure you're subscribed to my blog's email list (on the right side of this page) so you'll be alerted every time i post a new blog. and don't forget to follow me on twitter @clevelandgirl23 for all the daily breaking news tweets about Michael, including information about his upcoming rehab games.

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