SEATTLE: Michael Brantley isn’t a numbers guy. He said he’s not monitoring the All-Star voting and might not even know that by last count he stood sixth among American League outfielders.
But if there is one statistic the Indians’ left fielder could care about, it’s his outfield assists. He recorded his ninth of the season in Friday night’s 3-2 loss to the Seattle Mariners at Safeco Field, his leaping, hit-robbing catch starting a 7-6-3 double play in the fourth inning.
After the game, Tribe manager Terry Francona called the play a “game-changer” because on a night when the Indians were struggling to score, it gave them a chance to win in the ninth inning.
“He’s so reliable, but on a high scale,” Francona said before Saturday night’s game against the Mariners. “We talk all the time about not making errors or giving teams extra opportunities, but when you can take some away, that’s just as big.”
But pulling off the double play on Mike Zunino’s fly ball to the wall took more than Brantley. After the game, designated hitter Nick Swisher credited the relay throw by shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera.
Brantley said because he’s played so long with Cabrera, he knew the general area where Cabrera would be and hustled to get the ball in quickly. Cabrera said he had second baseman Jason Kipnis behind him keeping an eye on Logan Morrison at first base to see how far he was off the bag.
“I watched the guy running at first, see if he’s going halfway,” Cabrera said. “It’s loud. Kipnis is the one who has to let me know if I’ve got a chance at first. Kipnis is yelling, ‘One-two.’?”
Asked if he was surprised they pulled it off, Brantley said, “I’m excited. It helps the pitcher, it helps us get off the field hopefully with no runs.”
Right-hander Trevor Bauer did surrender one as Seattle took a 2-1 lead.
“He’s one of the great outfielders in the league right now,” Cabrera said of Brantley. “As soon as I saw he’s got a chance to catch that ball, that makes me feel good.”
Going into Saturday night, Brantley’s nine assists ranked second in the major leagues behind Oakland’s Yoenis Cespedes with 10.
Asked how he would feel if he beat out Cespedes in that category, Brantley said: “If it does happen, it’s great because I’m helping out my team in a positive way. That’s the whole goal.”
With 12 home runs going into Saturday, Brantley has already surpassed last year’s total (10). He was hitting .322, fourth in the AL entering the day, and with 52 RBI, he should easily surpass last season’s career-high 73.
In such a great offensive season, Brantley’s defense could get lost.
“Not with us. Never,” Francona said. “That’s a big part of what he does.
“He understands when he leaves the batter’s box he can still influence the game. That’s very important.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the her blog at www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/abj.sports.