GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Left fielder Michael Brantley is expected to miss around 10 days after sustaining a cut to his left forearm that required stitches. The Indians aren’t concerned that the injury is serious, and there is little doubt that Brantley will be able to open the regular season in Toronto.
Brantley appears poised to build on what could be called a breakout season of sorts last year, when he led the Indians with a .288 batting average over 149 games and added six home runs and 60 RBIs as Cleveland’s starting center fielder.
“There’s not really one set thing that I want to do better than last year,” said Brantley, who missed his first exhibition game Tuesday, with the Indians suffering their first loss — 4-1 to the Royals at Goodyear Ballpark. “But at the same time, I want to get better in every category. Why not? I’m still young. I’ve still got time and am still developing in my opinion.”
Brantley, 25, was off to a blazing start this spring before the injury struck. In three games, he went 5-for-6 with four doubles, two RBIs and two runs.
“I wish you could bottle where his swing is at,” manager Terry Francona said. “His first four swings, they were almost perfect. He hit four doubles and he went from left-center to the right-field line. It was gorgeous. He’s on time with everything.”
Brantley took advantage of the bad timing for Grady Sizemore’s injury last year, taking over in center and establishing himself as an every-day player. It was a big season for him in more ways than one.
“I learned a lot about the pitching, mostly guys in our division,” Brantley said, “just how they’re going to approach me. The more adjustments you can make, the better off you’re going to be as a major league hitter. I’m kind of learning that.”
Brantley was a strong candidate to return to center field in 2013 prior to the Indians signing two-time Gold Glover Michael Bourn to a four-year, $48 million free-agent contract shortly before the exhibition season began.
It means Brantley will return to left field, with another offseason addition, Drew Stubbs, patrolling right, to give the Indians one of the fastest, and potentially, finest outfields in the majors.
At least publicly, Brantley is fine with the move back to the corner spot, but he’s not comfortable with bouncing around in the batting order, something that happened often last year.
Manager Terry Francona said he would make an effort to separate the right-handed and left-handed hitters in his lineup, most notably Brantley and econd baseman Jason Kipnis. With Kipnis expected to hit near the top of the order, Brantley will most likely find himself batting fifth or sixth.
“Last year, I got bumped around a little bit,” said Brantley, who hit in seven different spots, including leadoff and cleanup. “As long as I can find somewhere in the lineup where I can hit consistently, I’ll be just fine.”
For now, it is rest and healing time for Brantley, who received 15 stitches to his arm after sustaining the laceration when he caught the spike of Oakland third baseman Josh Donaldson on a slide during an exhibition game in Phoenix on Monday.
Francona said Brantley would be on the shelf for three days before slowly returning to baseball activities.
“There’s not a reason to rush this thing whatsoever,” Francona said. “This isn’t going to be anything that alters anything. It just gave him a little scare. We’re gonna miss him for about 10 days and then we’ll get him right back in the swing of things.”