SEATTLE -- Much has been made about Michael Brantley's breakout offensive showing in the season's first half. As valuable as the Indians left fielder has been in the batter's box, he has also developed into a defensive weapon.
During the fourth inning of Friday's 3-2 loss to the Mariners, Brantley made a leaping grab at the wall in left-center field to rob Seattle's Mike Zunino of an extra-base hit. The left fielder then teamed with shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera on a relay to double up Logan Morrison at first base, giving Brantley nine outfield assists on the season.
"He's solid. That's a big part of what he does," Indians manager Terry Francona said of Brantley's defense. "I think because his offense has been so good, it's allowed me to maybe talk about him more and point out some of those things. I think he understands that when he leaves the batter's box, he can still influence the game. That's very important."
Entering Saturday's game, Brantley's nine outfield assists ranked second in the Majors to only Oakland's Yoenis Cespedes (10). In the previous 25 seasons, the most assists in a season by a Cleveland left fielder is 16 from Albert Belle in 1993. Brantley, who had 11 assists last season, is on pace to reach that mark this year with eight assists already out of left field.
"He's good out there," said Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer, who was on the mound for Friday's double play. "You almost start expecting him to make plays like that, because he does it so often. I think it'd be easy to overlook exactly how difficult that play is and what a good play it was."
Offensively, Brantley has turned in an All-Star-worthy showing as well. Through 75 games, the outfielder was hitting .322 with 12 home runs, 19 doubles, 52 RBIs, 53 runs and nine stolen bases. Among American League outfielders, Brantley ranked first in average, second in RBIs and third in extra-base hits (32) and OPS (.908), entering Saturday.
Fans can cast their votes for starters at MLB.com -- online or on a mobile device -- using the 2014 All-Star Game MLB.com Ballot Sponsored by Experian until Thursday at 11:59 p.m. ET. The 2014 All-Star Game will be played at Target Field on July 15 on FOX.
Masterson eyes Tuesday return from knee issue
SEATTLE -- Two extra days of rest does not sound like much, but Indians starter Justin Masterson felt it was plenty to help his ailing right knee. Masterson has focused on rehab and strengthening behind the scenes with the goal of starting for Cleveland on Tuesday.
Masterson is on target to get his wish.
Prior to Saturday's game against the Mariners at Safeco Field, Masterson successfully navigated his way through a normal bullpen session. Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway was impressed with what he saw and manager Terry Francona said Masterson is currently penciled in to start against the Dodgers on Tuesday.
"He's all set to go," Francona said. "He had a good side day and Mickey felt good about it."
Callaway kept a close eye on Masterson's mechanics during the workout and was happy with the results. The pitching coach said he was especially pleased with the way the veteran sinkerballer used his legs, showing no ill effects of the knee issue.
"He looked healthy," Callaway said. "It looked like he felt good and he was letting it good. His command was good, [velocity] was good, action on his pitches. It was all good. He looked liked he was using his lower half well -- probably better than I've seen in a while."
Masterson has indicated that the knee issue has been bothersome since his second start of the season. In the 16 outings covering that time period, the right-hander has posted a 5.44 ERA with a .791 opponents' OPS. Masterson allowed five runs in just four innings against the D-backs on Tuesday and is now 4-5 with a 5.03 ERA in 93 innings this season.
The pitcher said the extra days off did him good.
"Although it seems like such a short amount of time," Masterson said, "two days can really give you a lot of opportunity, when you have those full days to know that you can do a lot of things within them. We'll fight it for the next probably couple weeks. But, I think we've got it to a good point now where it will stay down and we can keep it down. At least that's the idea."
Double-A prospects Naquin, Wendle land on DL
SEATTLE -- It has been a rough week with Double-A Akron for a trio of Indians prospects. Shortstop Francisco Lindor, infielder Joe Wendle and outfielder Tyler Naquin were each sidelined by freak injuries in a span of three days, beginning Wednesday.
Lindor, who took a bad-hop grounder to the face and suffered a small non-displaced nasal fracture on Wednesday, is expected to return to game action in roughly a week. Naquin and Wendle, on the other hand, might both be facing surgery on their right hands.
"In the last week, we've had some tough luck with injuries," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said Saturday. "The good thing is none of them have long-term implications for them and they've all already made a great deal of progress developmentally so far this year."
Antonetti noted that both Wendle and Naquin are scheduled to be seen soon by hand specialist Dr. Thomas Graham in Cleveland. Wendle, who last appeared in a game Thursday, is on the Minor League disabled list with a fractured hamate bone in his right hand. Naquin (also on the DL) had his right hand fractured after being hit by a pitch Friday.
"With Joey," Antonetti said, "the likely recourse of that is to go in and have surgery. It's unfortunate, but it's usually a couple-month process to get back. It just happens. It's something that's been bothering him a little bit and then he re-aggravated it again the other day. When they did the scan, there was a hamate fracture. It usually happens hitting."
In 76 games for Double-A Akron this season, the 24-year-old Wendle hit .259 with eight home runs, 31 extra-base hits, 41 runs and 45 RBIs. The second baseman -- selected in the sixth round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft -- was recognized as Cleveland's top offensive Minor Leaguer last season with the organization's Lou Boudreau Award.
Naquin -- a first-round pick by the Tribe in the 2012 Draft -- hit at a .313 clip with four homers, 21 extra-base hits, 30 RBIs, 54 runs and 14 stolen bases through 76 games this season at Double-A. Antonetti said the Indians are awaiting word on the severity of Naquin's injury.
"Dr. Graham will see him this week, too," Antonetti said. "We'll come up with a plan of action at that point. But, he's going to miss some time. It's hard to say how long -- at least weeks."
Quote to note
"I looked at [head athletic trainer James Quinlan] today and said, 'It hasn't been that long, but I'm tired of seeing you. It's not you. It's the room.' I don't go in there. I do a lot of stuff, but usually it's not overseen by them. It's a little bit different. It's not something I want to get used to. But, they're nice people."
-- Indians starter Justin Masterson, on rehabbing his right knee injury
• Indians left-hander T.J. House, who is scheduled to be officially recalled from Triple-A Columbus on Sunday, was on hand in the visitors' clubhouse at Safeco Field prior to Saturday's game in Seattle. House is slated to start for Cleveland on Sunday opposite Mariners ace Felix Hernandez.
"He's got a predominantly left-handed-hitting team [in Seattle]," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "It's set up good for him. Well, he's facing Felix. That's not so good."
• Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis collected a pair of doubles Friday, giving him two doubles in two consecutive games. In the past 100 seasons, a Cleveland batter has notched at least two doubles in two or more games in a row just 28 times. Kipnis is the first to achieve the feat since 2006 (Jason Michaels). Hall-of-Famer Tris Speaker (June 16-18, 1922) is the only Tribe hitter to do so in three straight games.
• Francona gave third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall (.350 average through 65 games) the day off from starting Saturday. The manager said he wanted to let Mike Aviles play third Saturday in order to get some at-bats leading into a start against Hernandez on Sunday. Aviles has hit .412 (7-for-17) in his career against Seattle's ace.