Cleveland Indians Smart Not to Start Michael Brantley on Opening Day

By Casey Drottar

When it comes to Cleveland Indians outfielder Michael Brantley and his recovery from offseason shoulder surgery, it’s definitely been an interesting storyline to follow.

After having his non-throwing shoulder operated on over the offseason, the assumption was Brantley simply wasn’t going to be available for the month of April, with even May seeming iffy. Though he kept telling media he was aiming to return on Opening Day, such a goal was incredibly lofty.

However, as spring training opened up, Brantley was flying through his rehab program, hitting checkpoints much earlier than anticipated. His goal of being the team’s starting left fielder come the season opener suddenly didn’t seem that far-fetched. He even played in a couple games out in Arizona, and all signs indicated he could in fact be there for Opening Day.

Unfortunately, Brantley’s recovery hit a setback this weekend. Though he didn’t re-aggravate his injury, he’s still dealing with some soreness. It was enough for Tribe coach Terry Francona to decide Brantley wouldn’t be starting a week from Monday when the new season commences.

As upsetting as this is for both fans and Brantley himself, it’s tough not to agree with Francona’s decision. Though the Indians definitely need their star outfielder back as soon as possible, it’s not worth the risk of rushing him. Giving him more time to recover is the right call for Cleveland.

At the moment, the outfield seems to be one of the Tribe’s main weaknesses. While the team has serviceable players in Lonnie Chisenhall, Rajai Davis and potentially Marlon Byrd, none of them replaces what Brantley brings to the plate. Rookie Tyler Naquin has certainly earned the starting center field job, but he’s still unproven.

So, when the Indians saw how fast Brantley was surging through his recovery, there undoubtedly was plenty of excitement. That his first spring training game included both a home run and his gunning down a runner from the outfield, only increased the optimism.

However, if Brantley is still feeling soreness, this can’t be ignored. Though his rehab progress is definitely noteworthy, he can’t take the field again until he’s 100 percent.

The fact is, despite how impressive Brantley’s recovery has been this spring, he shouldn’t play until it’s officially complete. Yes, the Indians desperately need to avoid one of their patented April skids, and Brantley’s presence would certainly help the cause. Still, a setback with his shoulder is the last thing Cleveland needs.

Without him in the lineup, the Tribe’s outfield is obviously still suspect. Helping matters is the fact Byrd is having an impressive, albeit abbreviated spring with the team, proving he may be able to provide some offense if he makes the club. He likely won’t be able to deliver everything Cleveland would get from Brantley, but he can hopefully at least keep things afloat while the recovery process continues.

Brantley is one of this team’s core players, and will be counted on when it comes to getting back to the postseason. At the same time, having him back in the field once he’s officially healthy is much better than rushing him and increasing the odds of him getting reinjured.

In the long run, as upsetting as it is to see all of Brantley’s efforts come up just short of his goal, I’m sure he understands Francona’s decision. He’ll certainly be back soon, but Cleveland is definitely right to deem Opening Day out of the cards.

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