December 22, 2014

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Indians Notes: Michael Brantley rising above team’s offensive struggles

Cleveland Indians' Michael Brantley watches his ball after hitting a game-winning solo home run off Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Al Alburquerque Monday. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Cleveland Indians’ Michael Brantley watches his ball after hitting a game-winning solo home run off Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Al Alburquerque Monday. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

CLEVELAND — While the rest of his teammates have struggled to find offensive rhythm, left fielder Michael Brantley has been the pillar of consistency.

With All-Star Jason Kipnis (strained right oblique) sidelined since April 30, Brantley has been at the forefront of Cleveland’s production, entering Tuesday batting .292, with a team-leading nine home runs and 33 RBIs in 43 games.

“Brantley’s been so big for us,” manager Terry Francona said. “I actually think, though he’s not one of our veteran guys, the more of a leadership role he takes on our ballclub, the better we are. He’s that type of guy.

“I think he has a lot of influence in that clubhouse, because of the way he plays the game. I think everybody respects him a lot because of the way he plays the game.”

Brantley, a lifetime .277 hitter over four seasons, has added power to his offensive repertoire this year. He is already one homer away from the career-high 10 he posted in 2013.

“I’m just putting good swings on good pitches,” Brantley said. “I worked hard this offseason to kind of mature my swing and grow as a hitter and I feel I’m doing a great job at it. I’m just going to continue to do that all year for my team.”

“I know it’s fun to watch,” said Francona of Brantley’s increased power. “I do think his base is stronger, his legs. I think as good hitters get to know themselves — know the league — sometimes that evolves into more production. I think that’s what you’re seeing.

“I don’t think you see him selling out to hit home runs. Balls that used to be doubles, he’s starting to drive over the fence, which is great to see. But what I really like is the fact that he’s the same hitter. He’s just generating some more home runs.”

As he has for much of his career in Cleveland, Brantley has batted all over the order. He began as Cleveland’s fifth hitter, has also hit sixth, and has been in the three hole since Kipnis went on the disabled list.

It hasn’t affected his production.

“I’m a team player, I hit wherever,” Brantley said. “It doesn’t matter where I hit in the lineup. I just try to do the best I can no matter what situation I’m in.”

Comeback Kip
Francona said Kipnis (strained right oblique) was a week to 10 days away from returning to the lineup. Kipnis is expected to begin a minor league rehab assignment Friday with Columbus.

Francona was asked how many rehab games Kipnis would require before rejoining the Indians.

“Whatever he needs,” Francona said. “We just want to make sure he feels ready to play here.”

Moving day
As expected, the Indians recalled Tuesday’s starting pitcher Trevor Bauer from Triple-A Columbus, and activated veteran DH Jason Giambi from the disabled list. Cleveland also promoted middle infielder Justin Sellers from Columbus.

To make room on the roster for the three, the Indians optioned infielders Jesus Aguilar and Jose Ramirez and RHP T.J. House back to Triple-A.

Aguilar, the organization’s top power-hitting prospect, played in four games, collecting his first big league hit and RBI during Monday night’s walk-off win over the Tigers. Ramirez went 2-for-25 with an RBI in 11 games, while House worked a scoreless inning in his only appearance. All three made their major league debuts.

The defensive-minded Sellers, 28, was acquired from the Dodgers this spring, batting .227 with 15 RBIs in 37 games for the Clippers.

Minor conflict
Tigers slugger Miguel Cabrera reacted to an inside offering Monday night from Indians starter Corey Kluber, who wound up striking out Cabrera in the at-bat.

“I saw him look at me a little bit after the first pitch, but I didn’t really pay attention to him after that,” said Kluber, who allowed hits to the two-time defending AL MVP in each of his next three at-bats. “I think with him, really their whole lineup, you gotta keep them honest. They’re all good enough hitters that if you just kind of stay out over the plate, they’re going to make their adjustments and they’re going to put good swings on the ball, so I think you’ve got to move it around on them. I’m not trying to hit anybody or anything like that, you just gotta keep them honest.”

Kluber (4-3, 3.34 ERA) didn’t dominate the vaunted Tigers lineup — three earned runs on eight hits — but he was effective, pitching inside and striking out eight over seven innings.

“He showed that when you do pitch in, you can not let them get their arms extended and get them out,” Francona said.

Roundin’ third

  • Brantley’s game-winning homer in the 10th inning Monday was the first walk-off hit of his career.
  • Francona told reporters that he slept in his office at Progressive Field after Monday night’s victory over Detroit.

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him @CAwesomeheimer on Twitter.

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