November 23, 2014

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Indians notes: Michael Brantley returns to lineup

Cleveland Indians' Michael Brantley watches his two-run double off Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Chad Smith in the ninth inning Sunday in Cleveland. The Indians lost 10-4. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

Cleveland Indians’ Michael Brantley watches his two-run double off Detroit Tigers relief pitcher Chad Smith in the ninth inning Sunday in Cleveland. The Indians lost 10-4. (AP Photo/Mark Duncan)

CLEVELAND — Michael Brantley is back in lineup, and manager Terry Francona couldn’t be happier.

“He means so much to what we’re doing, so to have him back is nice,” Francona said of Brantley, the Indians’ top All-Star candidate, who entered Saturday batting .326 and a team-high 11 home runs and 46 RBIs in 70 games. “All the way around, defensively, teammate-wise, in the batting order, he’s really turned himself into one of the better players in the game.”

Brantley (mild concussion) was out of the lineup for three straight games, but returned Friday night in a pinch-hitting role. He started in left Saturday and batted third.

Brantley was hot before sustaining the injury Monday while attempting to break up a double play against the Angels. He entered Saturday on a nine-game hitting streak and batting .407 in 16 June games.

Getting the Ax

Though he had been pitching better as of late, John Axford didn’t help his chances to return to the closer role by serving up a decisive three-run home run to J.D. Martinez in the eighth inning of a 6-4 loss to Detroit on Friday.

“I think there’s probably some frustration on his part,” Francona said. “I get it. He wants to be in the closer’s role. (But) I feel responsibility to always do what is in our team’s best interest, and I think right now we’re better situated in keeping it the way it is.”

Right-hander Cody Allen has handled most of the closer duties in Axford’s absence and had converted seven of eight save opportunities through Friday.

Back to form

Catcher Yan Gomes began the season with an inordinate amount of errors, but he’s been much better as of late.

“Now he’s back to being that force, and it’s a nice feel,” Francona said. “It’s unbelievable. He’s got some really quick feet. Everybody sees the arm, that’s there, but his feet are so quick.”

Murphy’s law

Thanks to an 0-for-23 skid through Friday, right fielder David Murphy’s season average had dropped to .260.

“When he keeps his feet under him he’s really a dangerous hitter,” Francona said. “He’s just getting a little bit jumpy right now. I don’t know why. That’s hitting. Murph will settle in, and you watch, he’ll get hot again.”

Viva, Vizquel

Legendary Indians shortstop Omar Vizquel was inducted into the team’s Hall of Fame during ceremonies prior to Saturday’s game.

Vizquel, a first base coach for the Tigers, spent 11 of his 24 big league seasons in Cleveland (1994-2004), where he was part of six playoff teams and two World Series qualifiers. He was a three-time All-Star (all with the Indians) and an 11-time Gold Glove award winner (eight times with Cleveland).

Indians Hall of Fame members Andre Thornton, Charles Nagy, Sandy Alomar, Kenny Lofton, Carlos Baerga and manager Mike Hargrove were in attendance, along with team president Mark Shapiro.

Vizquel, the 40th member of the Indians Hall of Fame, threw out the ceremonial first pitch to Alomar.
Longtime Indians broadcaster Jimmy Dudley was inducted into Cleveland’s Hall posthumously.

Roundin’ third

The Indians signed their fourth-round draft pick, LHP Sam Hentges, out of Mounds View High School (Minn.). Cleveland has agreed to terms with 26 of its 42 draft picks, including 13 of the top 15.

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

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