CLEVELAND: Indians left fielder Michael Brantley says he’d still dive for the fly ball that eventually led to his shoulder surgery on Nov. 9, even as it’ll likely cost him the first month of the 2016 season.
“One hundred percent. Absolutely,” Brantley said when asked if he’d dive for it again. “I only know one way to play, and that’s as hard as I can. I’ll never change the way I play or not dive because I’ve had a problem. That’s letting down my teammates and I can’t do that.”
Brantley hurt his right, non-throwing shoulder while diving for a ball in Minnesota on Sept. 22. The team tried to allow him to work through the injury with a training program in October, but it was clear by November he’d need surgery. That has pushed his likely return to May, leaving the Indians without their No. 3 hitter for the season’s first month.
Brantley participated in a team workout Thursday morning and is progressing in his rehab, though he isn’t sure when he’ll be able to start hitting again. The realistic timetable hasn’t changed, though Brantley said he is hopeful of getting good news and being ready for the Indians’ Opening Day game against Boston on April 4.
“I don’t think it’s fair to give myself a target,” said Brantley at the Greater Cleveland Sports Awards on Thursday night, where he was a finalist for Pro Athlete of the Year. “My target is Opening Day. It’s not that I’m not going to go any slower or faster, but I’m going to do everything the training staff asks me to do, follow their schedule and do it the best of my ability.”
Brantley has spent most of the offseason in Cleveland working with the trainers. The full squad must report to camp in Goodyear, Ariz., by Feb. 21.
“Progress is going well,” he said. “We have a great medical staff that’s doing a phenomenal job keeping me on my routine. … I’ll do whatever it takes to get back as soon as I can.”
The Indians brought in free-agent outfielder Rajai Davis, along with a couple of secondary options, to account for Brantley’s absence in addition to providing an option in center field once he returns.
“The front office does a great job of getting good players in there and good people in there,” Brantley said.
“We have a great group of guys, a great nucleus of guys. When we add veterans like Davis and [first baseman Mike Napoli] that are good character guys in the locker room that fit so well, it makes it very exciting.”
Brantley was a nominee for Professional Athlete of the Year along with Browns tight end Gary Barnidge and Cavaliers superstar LeBron James. James won the award. Brantley said he considered it an honor to be nominated, particularly after a season in which he dealt with back issues nearly the entire year.
“You work very hard in the offseason, you prepare easy and every day and you play your best,” Brantley said. “To be recognized for it, it’s a blessing and it doesn’t go unnoticed.”
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ.