CLEVELAND -- It has been three weeks since Michael Brantley played in a game for the Indians. The club is hoping it will not be much longer before the left fielder is back in the lineup again.
An important step in Brantley's comeback from right shoulder surgery is on deck for Tuesday, when he is scheduled to begin a Minor League rehab assignment with Triple-A Columbus. Brantley will likely need a handful of games before potentially being cleared for activation from the 15-day disabled list.
"He's one of the best hitters in the game," Indians manager Terry Francona said last week. "It'll be great to have him back. When you add a hitter to your lineup, it's amazing. It's more than just one hitter. It seems to help everybody in front and behind, too."
Brantley has not played in a game since March 21, when he went 0-for-2 with a walk in a Cactus League appearance against the White Sox. The left fielder made his Spring Training debut on March 19, belting a home run and throwing out a runner at the plate in a showing against the Cubs that fueled optimism that he might be ready in time for Opening Day.
Following Brantley's second Cactus League game, though, that possibility went out the window when the outfielder complained of soreness in his right shoulder. Cleveland shut Brantley down from hitting activities for roughly a week before gradually building up the volume and intensity of his workouts again.
The Indians appreciated the fact that Brantley was up front with them about how he felt.
"His honesty is really important," Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said at the end of Spring Training. "The thing that matters most is that we are able to put him in a position to be successful for the majority of the season. ... To Michael's credit, he was really good about how he communicated every step of the way throughout the process."
Columbus is home through Wednesday before heading out on a seven-game road trip. Double-A Akron and Class A Lake County each begin a homestand on Thursday; if Brantley progresses well and Cleveland wants to keep him closer to home, he could continue his rehab assignment with one of those affiliates.
Brantley underwent an arthroscopic procedure on Nov. 9 (performed by Dr. Craig Morgan in Wilmington, Del.) to repair a labral tear in his right shoulder. The injury occurred on Sept. 22, when Brantley made a diving attempt on a fly ball to left in the third inning of a game against the Twins. He missed 10 of the final 12 games in 2015 for the Tribe.
For the first two weeks of the offseason, Brantley went through a rehab program with the hope of avoiding surgery, but lingering discomfort necessitated the operation. The 28-year-old spent the bulk of his offseason in Cleveland, and he reported to Spring Training early with the idea of doing everything possible to beat the initial timetable for return (five to six months).
Brantley remained in Cleveland to do his rehab and side work with the Indians during the season's first homestand, and he has spent the past few days working out with Columbus, while the Tribe has been on the road.
"He's been so good about getting his work in and things like that," Francona said. "Whatever he kind of wants to do, he's doing it for a reason."
Indians trade Soto to Cubs
The Indians sent left-hander Giovanni Soto to the Cubs on Monday in exchange for cash considerations.
Soto made his Major League debut last season, throwing 3 1/3 scoreless innings over six appearances. He posted a .231 batting average against (3-for-13) and a 0.90 WHIP in that span. The 24-year-old is 25-25 with four saves and a 3.10 ERA in 167 Minor League appearances (64 starts).