CLEVELAND: The Indians and Michael Brantley are hoping the third attempt to work his way back from shoulder surgery will result in his being able to return to the lineup and, this time, stay in it.

The first two attempts didn’t go as planned. Brantley has returned to action twice since spring training but hasn’t been able to stick around, as his surgically repaired shoulder hasn’t responded like they had hoped.

The Indians are in the thick of the American League Central race and still, for the most part, are awaiting one of the crucial pieces to the middle of their lineup.

Brantley returning isn’t the focal point. It’s his shoulder holding up for the rest of the season once he does.

Brantley’s original timetable put his expected return some time around the beginning of May. But he progressed much faster than expected, passing his hitting milestones ahead of schedule. He’s twice felt good enough to play, but it didn’t last long.

Indians manager Terry Francona repeated on Saturday there was no longer a reason to hold him back.

“[Until] he passed all his milestones, he was never going to move on with the medical people,” Francona said. “But once he did, there was never a reason to hold him back. And the same thing will happen again this time. We’ll certainly be a little bit more conservative.”

He and Brantley agreed there wasn’t anything they would have done differently.

“Absolutely not. I was ready,” Brantley said. “We talked about it. We had a great process and a great calendar laid out. Everything went smoothly. It was just a bump in the road.”

There is still no timetable for Brantley’s return. Brantley received an anti-inflammatory shot after receiving an impingement diagnosis, was shut down for a week and a half and this week began taking dry swings and hitting off a tee. It’s still a day-to-day process.

“I feel good,” Brantley said. “It’s a process that I’ve got to kind of play through again, but all’s going well so far.”

He added there’s a noticeable difference between how he’s felt before and after the shot. But, for now, it’s just again trying to build up his volume of work and hoping the shoulder responds.

“Anytime you’re not with your team, and this is where you want to be, to help contribute and just be around the players, it’s like a family around here,” Brantley said. “You miss your family when they’re gone and you’re trying to do your best to get back with them.”

Brantley is a former Silver Slugger outfielder who’s hit at least .310 with a .379 on-base percentage, 15 home runs and 45 doubles each of the past two seasons.

Jose Ramirez has done well in his absence, ­providing the Indians with a spark despite not having a regular spot in the field.

But with the Indians now near the top of the AL Central, getting Brantley back and having him in the lineup for the rest of the season is near the top of the priority list.

That is, if the third try is different.

Ryan Lewis can be reached at rlewis@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/RyanLewisABJ.