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06/08/12 8:49 PM ET

After slow start, Brantley in groove at plate

ST. LOUIS -- With a fourth-inning single in Friday's opener against the Cardinals, Michael Brantley extended his hitting streak to 16 games. He entered the game hitting .357 with 14 RBIs during the run.

While the 25-year old began the year batting .196 over his first 13 games, manager Manny Acta is not at all surprised by Brantley's recent success.

"He never changes his approach," Acta said Friday. "At the beginning of the season, even when he wasn't hitting well batting average-wise, he was hitting a lot of balls hard. He's continued to do the same thing, and things are falling into place for him."

Brantley was batting .289 against lefties and .277 against right-handers going into Friday's action. He has also been one of the club's most clutch hitters, hitting .338 with two outs, .333 with two down and runners in scoring position, and .321 when the Indians are behind.

While Acta doesn't believe in one guy "sparking" the rest of the lineup, the skipper couldn't deny that Brantley has the potential to change the game in each plate appearance.

"He gives us quality at-bats all the time, that's what we like about him," Acta said. "He stays even-keel, even when things aren't going well, and continues to work. But right now he's hitting righties, lefties, everybody."

Perez catches up with old Cards' mates

ST. LOUIS -- During batting practice before Friday's game against the Cardinals, Chris Perez and a handful of St. Louis players gathered in shallow left field, chatting and laughing while hard-hit liners zoomed by.

Perez made a lot of close friends during his four years in the Cardinals' Minor League system -- including closer Jason Motte, reliever Mitchell Boggs and outfielder Jon Jay, who also played with Perez at the University of Miami.

"It's just like old times," Perez said. "I haven't seen them for a couple years, but it was just like old times back in our bullpen in [Double-A] Springfield. We were really close since I played here. It's just good seeing old friends."

Perez appeared in 70 games for the Cardinals from 2008-09 before he was traded to Cleveland. He and Motte were sharing closer duties in St. Louis, and the Cardinals ultimately chose Motte to be their regular guy.

  • 142 wins
  • 110 wins

Perez didn't see eye-to-eye with members of the Cardinals' staff -- including former manager Tony La Russa. But as he's gone on to enjoy success in Cleveland, Perez sees that conflict as a part of the past.

"I totally respect [La Russa]. He's one of the best managers in the history of the game. I understand that," Perez said. "Every day he brought it, like no other. Playing here and going somewhere else, you see the difference. No hard feelings, I just think it could have been handled differently."

Perez said he was glad to be let go in 2009, and wasn't surprised by the move. He said he was born to be a closer, and is happy to be flourishing in that role in Cleveland.

"It's worked out. Whenever I was over [here in St. Louis], I was a young guy trying to make a name for myself in some pretty difficult roles," Perez said. "Like I said, I was young, I trusted my abilities and stuff but I didn't know how to be a big league pitcher. But now, I've grown up, couple things off the field, I had a kid and am a father now. It's just a natural progression, I'm a veteran now."

Duncan enjoys homecoming in St. Louis

ST. LOUIS -- Shelley Duncan was around the old Busch Stadium just about every summer before he was drafted in 2001. He was in St. Louis the summer Mark McGwire chased home run No. 62 and for all of the Cardinals' World Series games in 2004.

"Whole lot of time here," Duncan said while reminiscing before Friday's opener against the Redbirds.

Duncan's father, Dave Duncan, served as the Cardinals' pitching coach from 1995-2011. And Shelley's brother, Chris, was drafted by the Cardinals with a first-round pick in 2009 and played in St. Louis from 2005-09.

This weekend marks a bit of homecoming for Shelley, as he will be spending time with his parents, Jeanine and Chris, who co-host a popular St. Louis sports talk radio show. Shelley said he went out to dinner with his family on Thursday night and made an appearance on Chris' radio show before Friday's game.

"Of course," Duncan said when asked if Chris had given him a hard time on the show. "I tried to dish it back a little bit."

Quote to note

"We did. Mine's longer right now. But he can grow one in a week. This, this has been months. He could shave tomorrow and next week he'll have a beard. He's like a Chia Pet."
--Perez on comparing beards with Cardinals closer Jason Motte

Smoke signals

• Acta said he would have expected Chen-Chang Lee, who will require season-ending Tommy John surgery on his right arm, to have joined the Major League club by season's end had he not been injured. Lee was 2-0 with a 2.57 ERA in five games with Triple-A Columbus this season.

"That Tommy John surgery has become such a routine for players, we expect to see him pitching soon again at some point," Acta said. "We knew at some point that if you threw the ball well in Triple-A, we'd see him here."

• The Indians entered Friday with a 14-10 record on the road this season, the fifth-best mark in the Majors and fourth best in the American League. Cleveland is averaging a Major League-best 5.33 runs per game on the road.

Mike Still is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.