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Indians' Brantley hits off tee, encouraged by progress


GOODYEAR, Arizona (AP) Michael Brantley's smile stretched from ear to ear. His recovery from shoulder surgery is picking up speed.

Limited to non-contact swings this offseason as the Indians left fielder recovers from right shoulder surgery in November, Brantley took a tangible step in the right direction over the weekend by hitting off a tee.

''I hit a couple balls on Saturday, felt good,'' Brantley said at the team's training facility Monday, a day before Cleveland holds its first full-squad workout of spring training. ''You got to take baby steps and we took the first step already.''

Brantley has crossed the first threshold on his way back to playing, but he's unsure of the next step in his hitting progression. He's hoping to take real swings soon.

''I'm not quite sure what happened or what's going to go on from here right now,'' Brantley said. ''We should be starting to hit some baseballs here soon.''

He may not be able to hit baseballs that aren't placed on a tee just yet, but Brantley is able to participate in every other aspect of camp.

''I plan on doing everything that everybody else is doing, except for I have a different hitting program than most,'' Brantley said. ''I plan on taking my outfield drills and doing everything with the outfielders, so I'll be around my teammates.''

Brantley's initial rehab diagnosis ruled him out for the first couple of months of the 2016 season, but he hasn't been shy in aiming toward a quicker return, even if it's a bit unrealistic.

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''I want to be back as soon as I can, that's Opening Day,'' Brantley said. ''The sooner I can get out there with them, the happier I'm going to be and hopefully they will be as well.''

Brantley is aware that the home opener April 4 against Boston is only a remote possibility.

So he's preparing to help his team from the sidelines as he gets closer to being back on the field.

''If I'm not out there, I'm going to be the biggest cheerleader I can be,'' said Brantley, who spent all of 2015 battling nagging injuries. ''Hopefully, I'll be around my teammates so I can make sure I can give any advice or help them in any way.''

Indians manager Terry Francona knows he needs to be patient with his best all-around player.

''He's coming quickly,'' Francona said. ''You can't rush what you can't rush, but the minute he's ready to move on, they let him and he's gone quick.''

As he goes through his rehabilitation, Brantley admitted that it's been a bit of a struggle in which everything moves slowly.

With that said, he's going to endure all that he has to in order to return to the Indians at his best - whenever that may be.

''It's something I've dealt with before. It's not my first surgery,'' Brantley said. ''I think it's very important to make sure that you're 100 percent before you get back and make sure you take all the necessary steps in the rehab process as well.''