The less we all think about the last two Cleveland Indians games, the happier we are going to be. With that in mind, how about we ignore the fact that the Minnesota Twins (THE TWINS!) walked off twice and instead we focused on something exciting? Something like Michael Brantley's return.
The Tribe's start left-fielder made his first start of 2016 yesterday, but he did not do much with his bat. All told, he was 0-for-4 with a strikeout. To be fair, no one did much of anything against Ricky "Cy Young candidate" Nolasco, who held the Indians to just six hits on the night. Brantley did not do much to add to the score, but he also was not in a position to do so, unless he wanted to hit four solo home runs.
Let's look at how Brantley's night with every at-bat.
1st inning, 0 on, Indians lead 1-0
- 0-0: 90 mph four-seam fastball, fly out
Brantley only saw one pitch in his first at-bat and he made contact. Unfortunately, it was contact that led to a ball being skied straight to center fielder Danny Santana. The pitch from Nolasco was a well-placed fastball on the outside edge of the plate, but Brantley was able to get something on it, instead of watching it go by as a strike
4th inning, 0 on, Indians tied 2-2
- 0-0: 90 mph two-seam fastball, ball
- 1-0: 83 mph slider, fly out
The first pitch was an easy take: a fastball that missed well to the outside. Brantley's swing on the second pitch looked like a protection swing that you would normally see with two strikes on. It was long, slow, and it resulted in another towering pop-up, this time to left field.
6th inning, 0 on, Indians tied 4-4
- 0-0: 72 mph curveball, called strike
- 0-1: 73 mph curveball, called strike
- 0-2: 73 mph curveball, ball
- 1-2: 80 mph splitter, swinging strike
It's hard to fault Brantley for taking the first two pitches, Nolasco just painted the edges of the zone with two perfectly-placed curveballs. The third pitch, another curveball, was bounced to the plate as an easy take for Brantley. The final pitch was a slow splitter well out of the zone that Brantley chased.
This felt like the kind of at-bat that will not happen again once Brantley gets some more time under his belt. He normally does not chase bad pitches, or when he does he rarely misses. Nolasco was in control the entire at-bat and Brantley just looked outmatched.
9th inning, 1 out, 0 on, Indians trail 4-5
- 0-0: 94 mph four-seam fastball, ball
- 0-1: 94 mph four-seam fastball, foul
- 1-1: 94 mph four-seam fastball, ball
- 1-2: 93 mph four-seam fastball, ground out
Closer Kevin Jepsen had no issue challenging Brantley in this at-bat. The first pitch was an outside fastball, an easy take, then Brantley got a piece of a rising fastball that went foul. After another rising fastball that was a called ball, Brantley was well ahead of (and on top of) the final pitch, which resulted in a bullet to the Twins first baseman.
Again, this is an at-bat that will likely have a better result when Brantley gets back into the swing of things and gets his timing down. Mechanically, nothing looked wrong -- this is still the same silky smooth swing we have come to expect from Brantley.
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The best thing to take away from Brantley's first start of the year is that it does not look like the injury is causing any immediate issues. The only issue he has right now is timing, which is to be expected.
It will be worth it to keep an eye on Brantley's swing over the next couple starts, especially when he starts going back-to-back, whenever that may be. Terry Francona does not seem to be keen on rushing him back; the worst thing the team could do would be to shove Brantley into the lineup every day and aggravate the shoulder.