'Dr. Smooth is back,' but still on a short leash

Brantley looks sharp during rehab BP; Indians remain cautious

'Dr. Smooth is back,' but still on a short leash

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The repeated sound of baseballs meeting bats is a part of the Spring Training environment each morning. In the early hours of the Indians' workout on Friday, the cacophony coming from the indoor batting cage at Cleveland's complex came with increased signficance.

Inside the batting tunnel stood Michael Brantley, who took a series of normal batting practice swings and sprayed baseballs to the back of the black netting. One of the Tribe's athletic trainers looked on, as did hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo. After the hitting session, Van Burkleo cracked a smile when asked how Brantley's swing looked.

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"Dr. Smooth is back," Van Burkleo quipped. "He looks good. And the ball's coming off his bat nice."

The brief hitting workout marked the next step in Brantley's comeback from the right biceps surgery he underwent in August. Brantley was first required to advance through a progression that began with non-contact swinging, and later advanced to soft-toss drills. Throughout that process, the left fielder increased the volume and intensity of his swings. Van Burkleo noted that Brantley's daily volume is up to 120 swings.

Indians manager Terry Francona has made it clear there is no firm timeline for Brantley to return to games. After last year's experience, Cleveland wants to make sure it is being conservative with the outfielder's comeback. Last season, when Brantley was trying to return from November 2015 right shoulder surgery, he hit a series of setbacks after advancing to game action.

The positive right now is that Brantley has not had any hiccups in his hitting progression, which did not include normal BP swings until the second week of March last spring.

Brantley looks to return strong

"He looks real good," Van Burkleo said. "If you didn't know he was rehabbing, you'd think he was just getting ready for the day."

Last season, Brantley was limited to just 11 games for the Indians, and saw a handful of specialists while trying to determine the root of his arm issues. He was eventually diagnosed with chronic biceps tendinitis, which led to the August operation. The Indians are hopeful last season's experience will help all parties involved take the proper course of action with Brantley's latest comeback bid.

"I don't think he could do anything differently, the way he went through it," Van Burkleo said. "He's worked his [rear] off from the beginning to get where he is now. We just hope there's no setbacks. Right now, he's feeling real good and there's not any issues. Hopefully, it stays that way."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. 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.