"He swung in one of his at-bats the other night and he felt his shoulder again," Francona said. "So, we kind of convened and the way he kind of phrased it to me was, he didn't seem terribly worried about it, he just feels like he's having a tough time pushing through the last little bit [of his swing]."
There had been growing optimism of late about Brantley, who as recently as July 5 said he felt "normal" after resuming batting practice. He then began a Minor League rehab assignment on July 11 and appeared in four games on an every-other-day basis. Brantley had three at-bats with Double-A Akron on Sunday, but was then held out of the lineup on Monday.
Dr. Craig Morgan performed surgery on Brantley on Nov. 9 to repair a labral tear in his right (non-throwing) shoulder, keeping the outfielder out until April 25. Brantley then appeared in 11 games for the Indians before lingering issues sent him back to the DL. On June 21, Brantley sought a second opinion from Dr. Keith Meister, who diagnosed the issue at that time to be biceps tendinitis and gave Brantley a cortisone shot.
Since that point, Brantley appeared to be recovering swiftly and there was genuine hope within the team that he was finally on his way back.
"We're going off by how Michael is feeling," said president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti. "Michael was really encouraged, as he was working through this progression. Each step of the way, he was feeling healthy and strong. The other day, he just developed a little bit of soreness. We now need to hit the pause button and see what the next steps are."
Antonetti added that the club does not yet feel Brantley needs to be shut down for the season.
"We're not to that point, yet," Antonetti said. "We want to try to first understand what's going on. What's causing this to continue to happen? What's the root of the soreness he's experiencing now? And, how do we help him through that?"
Antonetti also lauded the efforts of outfielders Rajai Davis, Jose Ramirez, Lonnie Chisenhall and Tyler Naquin, who have more than carried their weight with Brantley out. The 7.5 WAR (per Fangraphs.com) turned in by the Indians' outfield as a group ranked third in the American League and fifth in the Majors, entering Tuesday.
"One thing that's important to not lose sight of," Antonetti said, "is the group of guys that have gotten us to this point are still here, and have done a really good job."
Brantley, 29, hit just .231 in his 11 games this season, but he was an AL Silver Slugger Award winner and Most Valuable Player Award finalist as recently as 2014. Last season, while dealing with a variety of health issues, including the shoulder injury that flared in September, Brantley hit .310 with 15 homers, 45 doubles and 84 RBIs in 137 games.
Francona said it helps that Brantley has been "unbelievably" honest throughout his comeback.
"There's been a couple times where he's come up to me and apologized," Francona said. "His effort has been incredible. All the reasons we want him back, and the admiration we have for him, doesn't go away when his shoulder hurts."