ST. PETERSBURG -- Perhaps there is an element of respect being shown on the part of pitchers. Surely, what has been going on lately is a product of Michael Brantley's offensive tear for the Indians. Whatever the reason, Brantley is being walked more often these days.
Brantley drew two walks for Cleveland in Tuesday's loss to Tampa Bay, and the Indians' hot-hitting center fielder drew a career-high three free passes in Monday's win. Pitchers have been trying to get Brantley to swing at pitches outside the strike zone and he has not been biting.
"You never want to expand your zone," Brantley said prior to Wednesday's game at Tropicana Field. "I'm kind of getting some pitches that are borderline and, basically, I'm staying off of them right now. If I can continue to do that, hopefully I'll get some more pitches in the strike zone."
Entering Wednesday, Brantley had drawn 15 walks over his past 72 plate appearances, after having drawn 15 waks in his last 361 PA, dating back to last July. The recent surge in freebies has come during an extremely strong stretch for the Tribe's center fielder.
Brantley headed into Wednesday's game hitting .434 (23-for-53) over his past 16 games. Dating back to May 20, when he was hitting .255 for the Indians, Brantley has hit .341 (60-for-176) across 48 games, raising his season average to .300. He also entered Wednesday with the highest contact rate (92 percent) in the American League.
"I don't think it's that they don't want to pitch to him," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "He is patient enough. When he's going good, that's what happens. When you're hitting good, the result is you're not chasing, you're not expanding and you're swinging at good pitches to hit. It's a byproduct of being in a good groove."
Brantley had four home runs, 27 doubles, three triples, 40 runs scored and 44 RBIs through 87 games for Cleveland this season entering Wednesday, and he hit his fourth triple in his first plate appearance on Wednesday. He has posted a .356 on-base percentage to go along with a .433 slugging percentage.
"When you're going well, you see the ball better," Brantley said. "If you can consistently stay in the zone and swing at quality strikes, the better off you're going to be and you'll be able to have success at a high rate for a longer period of time."