Smooth ride?

USA TODAY Sports Weekly - - INSIDE - John Per­rotto

Cleve­land bets on the im­mensely tal­ented Michael Brant­ley, and his health may de­ter­mine how far it goes.

Which hot prospects could be mov­ing to ma­jors? Page 9

CLEVE­LAND – Michael Brant­ley is known as “Dr. Smooth,” and it is one of the most fit­ting names in base­ball.

The In­di­ans left fielder never seems to get rat­tled with his even-keeled per­son­al­ity.

He is also con­sid­ered one of the most fun­da­men­tally sound play­ers in the game and makes ev­ery­thing he does on the field look easy.

“I know the fans have a lot of fun with it, and that’s re­ally cool,” Brant­ley said of the nick­name, which was given to him by Cleve­land Plain Dealer sports colum­nist Den­nis Manoloff. “I just try to go out there ev­ery day and take care of busi­ness.

“I ap­pre­ci­ate peo­ple say­ing I make it look it easy, but it’s not easy. It’s a dif­fi­cult game to play and I put a lot of work into it. I never take it for granted, be­cause you never know what can hap­pen in this game.”

Brant­ley has learned that from ex­pe­ri­ence.

In 2014, he was se­lected to his first All-Star Game and fin­ished third in the Amer­i­can League MVP vot­ing as he hit .327 with 20 home runs and 23 stolen bases.

Brant­ley fol­lowed the next sea­son with a .310 bat­ting av­er­age, an Amer­i­can League-lead­ing 45 dou­bles, 15 home runs and 15 steals.

How­ever, Brant­ley suf­fered a torn labrum in his right (non­throw­ing) shoul­der late in the 2015 sea­son while at­tempt­ing to make a div­ing catch. He was lim­ited to 11 games the fol­low­ing sea­son af­ter hav­ing surg­eries on his shoul­der and right bi­ceps.

Brant­ley bounced back to make the AL All-Star team last sea­son. How­ever, he sprained his right an­kle for the sec­ond time in two months Aug. 8 while track­ing a fly ball, wound up play­ing in a to­tal of 90 games and had surgery to sta­bi­lize the lig­a­ments in Oc­to­ber af­ter the In­di­ans lost to the Yan­kees in an AL Divi­sion Se­ries.

Yet Brant­ley did not pout or feel sorry for him­self dur­ing all the down­time of the last two sea­sons.

“He did what comes nat­u­rally to him, and that’s be the best team­mate he could pos­si­bly be,” In­di­ans man­ager Terry Fran­cona.

Play­ers of­ten say they do not feel like they are com­pletely part of the team when they are on the dis­abled list. Brant­ley im­mersed him­self in ev­ery­thing go­ing on with the In­di­ans even though he couldn’t play.

“I think it’s my per­son­al­ity,” Brant­ley said. “I love be­ing around my team­mates. I love talk­ing to them. I love mess­ing around with them and hav­ing fun with them. The more I’m around them, the bet­ter off I am.

“I stayed in the dugout the whole game to see if I could help in any­way, even if it was just to keep them mo­ti­vated or keep them loose. I tried to do what I could to still be part of the team.”

Brant­ley de­vel­oped a base­ball player’s mind-set early in life. His fa­ther, Mickey Brant­ley, was an out­fielder with the Mariners from 1986 to 1989 and had a three-year stint as the hit­ting coach with the Blue Jays from 2005 to 2007.

“It’s not easy when you’re not play­ing, but the one thing I learned early on about base­ball is that you can’t get too high or too low,” Brant­ley said. “I have a great group of guys in the club­house that are here to sup­port me and pick me up. I also have a good fam­ily that al­ways sup­ports me and picks me up.

“Times got a bit rough over the last two years, but my team­mates and my fam­ily were al­ways there, and I can’t thank them enough.”

Brant­ley, 30, was lim­ited to three games dur­ing spring train­ing this year while re­cov­er­ing from the an­kle surgery and be­gan the sea­son on the dis­abled list.

How­ever, af­ter miss­ing the sea­son-open­ing six-game road trip, he re­turned for the home opener April 6 against the Roy­als and made an im­me­di­ate im­pact.

Brant­ley’s two-run sin­gle capped a three-run first in­ning and proved to be the dif­fer­ence in a 3-2 vic­tory. It made for an emo­tional day for Fran­cona and Brant­ley’s team­mates.

Through his first six games, Brant­ley was 6-for-21 (.286).

“He’s an easy guy to bet on,” Fran­cona said. “I could give you pages and pages of why. He’s the heart and soul of our team. He does ev­ery­thing the way you’re sup­posed to.

“If peo­ple saw the way he works to get healthy, it would be hard to bet against him or to ever want to bet against him.”

The In­di­ans did not bet against Brant­ley af­ter last sea­son, ex­er­cis­ing the $11.5 mil­lion club op­tion in his con­tract for 2018 de­spite him be­ing lim­ited to 101 games over the pre­vi­ous two sea­sons.

Not sur­pris­ingly, Brant­ley didn’t sweat the de­ci­sion. He is Dr. Smooth, af­ter all.

“It was up to them but, at the same time, this is where I wanted to be, where I wanted to con­tinue my ca­reer,” Brant­ley said. “I’m very ap­pre­cia­tive to have the chance to con­tinue play­ing for the In­di­ans. We had a great sea- son each of the last two years, but we also have some un­fin­ished busi­ness. I would have hated to have not been here when there was still un­fin­ished busi­ness.”

That un­fin­ished busi­ness is the In­di­ans win­ning their first World Se­ries ti­tle since 1948. Their 70-year drought is the long­est cur­rent one in the ma­jor leagues.

The In­di­ans made it to the Fall Clas­sic two years ago and lost to the Cubs in seven games. Last sea­son, the In­di­ans’ 103-59 record was the best in the AL, but they were knocked off by the Yan­kees.

Mak­ing the losses hurt even more is the In­di­ans led the Cubs three games to one and the Yan­kees two games to none but have lost six con­sec­u­tive games in which they could have closed out a se­ries.

Brant­ley was forced to miss the World Se­ries. Al­though he re­turned to play in last year’s ALDS, he was lim­ited by the an­kle in­jury and went 1-for-11 (.091) in three games.

The In­di­ans are the only team Brant­ley has played for in the ma­jor leagues, mak­ing his de­but in 2009. A year ear­lier, he was ac­quired from the Brewers as part of a trade for CC Sa­bathia.

The In­di­ans are fa­vored to win a third con­sec­u­tive AL Cen­tral ti­tle, and this could be Brant­ley’s last year in Cleve­land be­cause his con­tract ex­pires at sea­son’s end. So there is a sense of ur­gency to win it all in 2018.

“It would mean ev­ery­thing to win a World Se­ries,” Brant­ley said. “It’s what you work so hard for. It’s what every­one in this locker room is work­ing their tail off for ev­ery day.

“We’re not shy­ing away from it. We’re not scared to talk about it. We’ve had a cou­ple of op­por­tu­ni­ties the last two years, and I think we’re good enough to have an­other one this year.

“This time, we need to cap­i­tal­ize on it. We need to fin­ish the job.”

Michael Brant­ley, left, is look­ing for a healthy year so that he can be pro­duc­tive and help the In­di­ans re­turn to the AL play­offs for the third con­sec­u­tive sea­son. DAVID RICHARD/USA TO­DAY SPORTS

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