GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) — The Cleveland Indians will start the season missing Michael Brantley.
Still recovering from offseason surgery on his right ankle, Brantley is being placed on the disabled list as the team continues to take a cautious and deliberate approach with the two-time All-Star outfielder.
Brantley, who has been limited to 101 games over the past two seasons because of injuries, only began playing in exhibition games a few days ago. While he has made steady improvement, Brantley, who homered in his first at-bat of the spring, is not quite ready to play in a major league game.
“He’s doing great. I just think, after we put our heads together, it would be good for him,” manager Terry Francona said Sunday. “He’s just not quite ready maybe to carry enough of the load. There’s no setback or anything like that.”
If anyone understands the road to recovery can be arduous, it’s Brantley, who has battled injuries the last two years.
He bounced back last season after playing in just 11 games in 2016, made the All-Star team and was having a strong year before injuring his ankle while tracking a fly ball on Aug. 8. He finished the regular season batting .299 with nine homers and 52 RBIs in 90 games.
Brantley made it back for the postseason, but batted just .091 (1 for 11) as the Indians lost to New York in the division series.
With Brantley going on the DL, outfielder Tyler Naquin will be on Cleveland’s opening day roster.
“I informed him as he was running out to stretch,” said Francona. “Nake had a great spring.”
Naquin entered Sunday’s game batting .294 (15 of 51) with two home runs and 10 RBIs this spring. The 26-year-old was with the Indians at the start of last season, but spent the majority of 2017 at Triple-A Columbus. Naquin played in 116 games and batted .296 as a rookie with the Indians in 2016.
Also, veteran slugger Mike Napoli accepted an assignment to Columbus. The Indians brought the 36-year-old to camp as more of a favor so he could showcase himself for other teams. Cleveland doesn’t have a roster spot for him, but Francona is thrilled that some of the organization’s younger players can learn from Napoli, who had his best career season with the Indians two years ago.
“In my opinion, he can still be a major league player,” Francona said. “Like he said, even platooning or something. But while we have him, his influence will be much appreciated. He’s one of the very best. If he’s around Bobby Bradley and Yandy Diaz and things like that, it will be wonderful.”
Cleveland’s final roster spot will be determined by whether outfielder Brandon Guyer is ready to go following wrist surgery. If he’s not, and has to go on the DL, Rob Refsnyder will be on the 25-man roster when the Indians open on Thursday in Seattle.
Guyer made his spring debut Saturday and hit a single in his first at-bat.
“Guyer really feels like he’s ready and he actually looks pretty good,” said Francona.
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