‘The Cleveland Indians 25-man roster to open the season is starting to take shape, but it looks as though it will be increasingly likely that All-Star left fielder Michael Brantley will not be active when the team hosts the Boston Red Sox on April 4.
Brantley, who had surprised many by getting into two Cactus League games and appearing ahead of his expected rehab schedule, suffered a setback to the process and was set to meet with Dr. Mark Schickendantz Saturday, according to MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian. The team will hold him out of action as a precaution during the next week, putting his roster spot into extreme question for Opening Day and a trip to the 15-day disabled list all the more likely.
“I think it was healthy for him to shoot for [Opening Day],” Indians manager Terry Francona was quoted about Brantley’s status on Saturday. “Anytime you have a goal, I think it’s good. I hope he’s not disappointed. I think maybe he understands probably better than anybody here what he means to this team. But, there’s not one ounce of disappointment in me. I’m proud of him, man.
“He busted his [tail] and he’ll continue to do that. It might be a week later. It might be ten days. He’s going to be just fine. We’ve just got to do it right. It was easy to do it right, because of our trust with him and his honesty with us.
“I don’t think you’re going to see him playing in a Major League game this week, that’s for sure. But, how we go about the next two, three, four days, I think we’ll have a better idea, maybe [after meeting with Dr. Schickendantz].”
The news brings back into question how the Indians outfield will take shape when the team returns to Progressive Field to open the season just two Mondays from now. Rajai Davis and Tyler Naquin are both locked in, as appears to be the case with Lonnie Chisenhall, despite an underwhelming and injury-filled camp with the club.
Naquin was notified on Friday that he had made the Indians’ Opening Day roster. It is unknown if he will be the regular center fielder to start the year or if he will platoon with the right-handed hitting Davis. Naquin has consistently fared much better against right-handers than left-handers throughout his minor league career, while Davis has a .296 average lifetime against lefties.
The Indians did receive some good news in the injury department after Chisenhall met with Dr. Thomas Graham on Friday. He was cleared to continue game action and was scheduled to work in the minor league camp on Saturday.
Several other candidates remain in camp battling for spots in Cleveland’s outfield, including Marlon Byrd, Collin Cowgill, Robbie Grossman, Shane Robinson, and Will Venable, although Robinson has been away from the club tending to a personal matter. Utility man Jose Ramirez is also expected to garner playing time in the grass throughout the season.
One player who will not factor in to the 25-man roster to start is outfielder Joey Butler, who was one of several players optioned out of camp on Saturday. He had hit .206 with a .289 on-base percentage for the Tribe in Arizona with a pair of home runs and seven RBI over 20 games. Francona shared that he was thrilled that Butler has an option so he can remain with the organization.
Several other expected moves were made by the club, as they also optioned third baseman Giovanny Urshela and Erik Gonzalez to Columbus. Urshela had a notably strong spring, hitting .308 with a .375 OBP and led the club with five homers and was second with 12 RBI. The 24-year-old will get an opportunity to play every day with the Clippers and hone his skills there, particularly at the plate.
“We walked him through it again,” Francona shared Saturday. “[We explained] why we signed Uribe, that we thought spending some time in Triple-A would be really good for him. You don’t always expect the players to evaluate it the same, because they’re supposed to think they can do it. But, he understood.
“We told him, ‘We signed a guy for a year. We want you to be ready to come be the third baseman and stay here.’ I thought he had a really good camp.”
Gonzalez, a top prospect in the Indians’ farm system, will continue to work as the shortstop with the Clippers. He will join first baseman Jesus Aguilar there, as he was optioned to Triple-A earlier in the week.
In addition to those moves, the club also made some moves in their crowded bullpen this week.
Austin Adams was optioned on Saturday, making way for veteran right-hander Joba Chamberlain to make the club as a reliever. Adams was tied for the team lead in strikeouts by relievers during spring training and had worked in nine games, posting a 2.61 ERA, a 1.16 WHIP, and a .235 batting average against. Chamberlain had made eight appearances entering action on Saturday, earning a 3.38 ERA, 1.50 WHIP, and .233 average against.
The club informed left-handed relief options Joe Thatcher and Tom Gorzelanny that neither would make the 25-man roster out of spring. With the likelihood that the Indians carry five outfielders to start the season, the bullpen appeared to be the area that would be cut from, as the coaching staff could not rationalize carrying a specialist in the bullpen with the current roster crunch. It looks more and more likely that Kyle Crockett could claim the lefty spot in the bullpen; through eight games prior to Saturday’s contest, he had no record and one save in the spring with a 2.08 ERA, a 1.04 WHIP, and a .206 average against.
The remaining left-hander in camp, Ross Detwiler, has worked six innings in six games with a 4.50 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and .261 batting average against.
After the roster moves today, the Indians’ Major League camp has just 39 players remaining.
Photo: AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin