Brantley HRs in debut as Tribe tops Cubs

Brantley HRs in debut as Tribe tops Cubs

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Indians starter Corey Kluber knows he will be taking the mound on Opening Day. Left fielder Michael Brantley is doing everything in his power to join him. On Saturday night, that duo led the way in a 10-5 Cactus League victory over the Cubs.

Kluber continued his stellar spring showing with five innings, continuing to build toward his second Opening Day assignment for Cleveland. Brantley, who underwent surgery on his right shoulder in November and is aiming to be ready in time for the Indians' April 4 season opener, launched a two-run home run and chalked up an outfield assist in his Cactus League debut.

"I'm very excited, yeah," Brantley said of being back in games.

"I woke up at the normal time, even though we had a late [game] time, at 5:45 this morning. I was excited and ready to go. It was a good day."

The Cubs' lone run off Kluber came via the bat of slugger Kris Bryant, who singled to left field with the bases loaded in the third inning, scoring Pierce Johnson. On the play, Brantley charged in, gloved the grounder and came up firing to home plate, where Ben Zobrist was thrown out to help stifle Chicago's rally.

The run was the first allowed this spring by Kluber, who has 16 strikeouts and three walks in his 14 Cactus League innings. Against the Cubs, the right-hander struck out five, walked one and dodged the potential damage of six hits allowed.

"That was a big play in that inning right there," Kluber said of Brantley's assist. "Bases loaded, nobody out, all of a sudden you can kind of sneak one out right there with him making a great throw and getting the guy at the plate. That kind of changes the dynamic of the inning, and luckily enough, we were able to hold them to just one run."

Indians manager Terry Francona praised his right-hander after the game.

"It's unbelievable how much he pays attention to detail," Francona said. "It's been steadily almost like one mile an hour higher each outing. It just continues to creep up to where he'll be during the season. He had to throw out of the stretch a little bit there and, with Brantley making the play, he limited damage like he does. It was a really good outing."

Francona also was thrilled for Brantley.

"Good for him," Francona said. "Besides the fact that he took some good swings, you saw the way that everybody reacted to him. [It was] good. I think it's pretty obviously that he's been working pretty hard."

Johnson was sent down to the Minor League camp on Friday, and Saturday might have been his last Cactus League start of the year. It also was his best outing, as he spun four shutout innings with a pair of strikeouts. He was pumped about getting a hit to lead off the third, too.

"I got my first hit, too. Wow -- a base hit off Corey Kluber. That was fun," Johnson said.

He has been working on fine-tuning his mechanics with pitching coach Chris Bosio, and felt the lessons finally paid off.

"For me, it's minimizing the mistakes and pinpointing the pitches," Johnson said. "The more consistent I can be throwing strikes and keeping the ball down, I think that will translate to success."

Following Johnson's exit, the Indians struck for nine runs across the fifth and sixth.

In the fifth, Cubs reliever Justin Grimm issued a pair of walks before allowing a run-scoring groundout to Francisco Lindor and an RBI single to Jason Kipnis. That set the stage for Brantley, who pulled a 2-0 pitch over the right-field wall for a two-run homer in his third and final at-bat of the night. In a five-run sixth, Lindor added an RBI single and Kipnis knocked in a run with a fielder's choice.

Jason Vosler connected for a three-run homer in the eighth inning for the Cubs. Robbie Grossman added a solo shot in the Cleveland eighth.

Up next for Cubs: Jon Lester will make his second Cactus League start on Sunday when the Cubs play host to the Royals at Sloan Park. Lester gave up three earned runs on seven hits over two innings in his first outing, on March 10, then made his next start in an intrasquad game and a more controlled setting. The game will be broadcast on MLB.TV and Gameday Audio starting at 3:05 p.m. CT.

Up next for Indians: Outfielder Marlon Byrd, who signed a Minor League contract with the Tribe on Friday, is scheduled to make his Indians debut as a designated hitter on Sunday, when Cleveland heads to Peoria, Ariz., for a 4:10 p.m. ET tilt against the Mariners. Lefty T.J. House is slated to start and log five innings, with Tom Gorzelanny, Ross Detwiler, Joba Chamberlain, Austin Adams and Joe Thatcher also penciled in to pitch. The game will be available on MLB.TV and Gameday Audio.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.