Michael Brantley has perfected the comeback season. Now he has to master completing one.
Brantley singled home two runs on the first pitch of his first at-bat this season, and Carlos Carrasco worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the sixth inning, leading the Cleveland Indians to a 3-2 win in their chilly home opener over the Kansas City Royals on Friday.
Brantley missed Cleveland’s first six games while on the disabled list recovering from offseason ankle surgery. But just hours after being activated, the two-time All-Star who has overcome injuries the past two seasons, delivered in the first inning against Danny Duffy (0-2), who managed to hang around until the sixth.
It was an ideal start for the 30-year-old, who means as much to the Indians as any player on their roster.
“He’s an easy guy to bet on,” manager Terry 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.”
Following devastating, disappointing finishes the past two postseasons, the Indians are hoping this is the year they end a 70-year World Series title drought, baseball’s longest. Brantley is a major part of those plans, but he needs to stay healthy after being limited to 101 games the past two seasons.
Brantley has learned one major lesson from his injuries.
“Be patient,” said Brantley, who hit a walk-off single to win last year’s home opener. “Understand that I’m listening to my body and understand exactly what’s going on and how I feel every day and make sure I’m being honest with myself and with this team. I’m feeling good right now. I’ll wake up tomorrow and we get to do it again.
“That’s all I’m looking forward to, one day at a time, playing as many games as I can.”
Carrasco (2-0) gave up two runs in the first inning, but settled in. The right-hander retired 13 straight before running into trouble in the sixth, when the Royals loaded the bases with one put. Carrasco then struck out Lucas Duda looking and retired Cheslor Cuthbert on a liner.
Nick Goody worked the seventh, Andrew Miller put two on then struck out the side in the eighth, and Cody Allen pitched the ninth for his second save.
Francona joked about Miller’s ability to escape self-inflicted jams.
“Like he’s his own reliever,” Francona said. “Once he has to start attacking, it’s like he gets better. That’s a good feeling. Not too often you look up and it’s first and second, and you’re just not too sure they’re going to score. A lot of times, that’s not a good recipe, but with him you’re like, ‘I think we’re going to be OK.'”
The Indians, who didn’t hit while blowing a 2-0 lead to New York in the AL Division Series last October, came in batting a league-low .161. They only got four hits, but that was enough thanks to Carrasco and their top-flight bullpen.
The Royals dropped to 3-16 in Cleveland since May 8, 2016.
Down 2-0 in the first, the Indians benefited from Duffy’s early wildness to score three times.
The left-hander, possibly bothered by the bitter, blustery weather conditions, walked Francisco Lindor and Jason Kipnis before Jose Ramirez dribbled an RBI single through the middle. After Duffy’s third walk, Brantley dropped his single into right.
“The first inning really hurt us, and I’ve got to be better than that, man,” Duffy said. “Two games in a row, my team has given me a lead and I’ve let it go. That’s a bummer.”
Rajai Davis received a huge ovation from Cleveland’s fans during pregame introductions. Davis, who hit a game-tying homer in the eighth inning of Game 7 in the 2016 World Series, re-signed with the club this winter.
Davis doubled in three at-bats.
The Royals have played a league-low five games, thanks to two weather postponements. But manager Ned Yost isn’t fretting about their erratic workload. “You can’t do anything to change it, so it’s as difficult as you want to make it,” he said. “You just try to go with the flow the best you can.”
Saturday’s forecast calls for temperatures in the low 30s.
Kansas City right fielder Jorge Soler went hitless in three at-bats, making him 0 for 34 dating back to last season. He did draw a walk off Allen in the ninth.
Kansas City RHP Ian Kennedy (0-0, 1.50 ERA) takes on Cleveland RHP Trevor Bauer (0-0, 3.60 ERA) in the second game of the series Saturday. Kennedy is winless in his last five starts against the Indians. Bauer pitched five innings in his first start.