CLEVELAND — Michael Brantley left the team Friday for his home in Florida to be with his wife, Melissa, who is expecting the couple’s first child. Perhaps the time off will provide a remedy for the left fielder’s struggles at the plate.
Brantley, considered one of the Indians’ top hitters, is batting just .218 (12-for-55) with one RBI over his last 15 games. The slump has dropped his season average to .278 (eight home runs, 59 RBIs in 132 games).
“He’s so steady. He will get hot again — it just won’t be (Friday night),” manager Terry Francona said.
Brantley’s wife was expected to give birth Friday or today. Francona said Brantley struggled with the decision to leave the team, but Francona persuaded him to go.
“In this day and age, as important as baseball is to all of us — and to me more so than probably anybody — I still would hate to be responsible for somebody missing the birth of their child,” he said.
Jason Kubel filled in for Brantley in left for the series opener against the Mets.
Corey Kluber will leave the disabled list today to start against the Mets, but the right-hander will be on a limited pitch count of around 75. Kluber, who missed a little more than a month with a right finger sprain, is 7-5 with a 3.54 ERA in 21 games (19 starts).
“Obviously, we’re going to cut it short, but I think he’s going to pitch just fine,” Francona said. “The other day, the way he threw the ball in the simulated game, I was amazed. He not only held his stuff, he was getting stronger.”
Francona is enjoying being back in postseason contention, with the Indians entering Friday just three games behind in the race for the American League’s second wild-card berth.
“This is a fun time of year,” he said. “When you show up to the ballpark and you’re nervous about the game, that’s really exciting. I wish we had a better record, but we’re in this every bit as much as about four or five other teams.”
A reporter asked Francona if his experience with a live chicken (the Indians’ rally chicken) was more positive than the one he had with fried chicken in Boston in 2011.
Some Red Sox players reportedly ate fried chicken and drank beer in the clubhouse during games as Boston collapsed, missed the playoffs and Francona was fired at the end of the season.
“As long as the (rally) chicken wasn’t drinking beer, we’re good to go,” Francona joked. “On that note, can I go?”
Center fielder Michael Bourn has shown a tendency the past two seasons to slow down after the All-Star break. He hit .225 (60-for-267) with two homers and 25 RBIs in 70 second-half games for the Braves last year, and was at .216 (37-for-171) with three homers and 20 RBIs in 42 games for the Indians entering Friday.
Francona is optimistic about the prospects of right-hander Blake Wood contributing out of the bullpen in the future. Wood, who missed all of last season recovering from Tommy John surgery, made his first big league appearance Monday since Sept. 28, 2011.
“I think it will be interesting to see as he gets some outings under his belt, does he maintain that velocity and does he get a little more command, because that’s a big arm right there,” Francona said.
Major League Baseball has granted the Indians permission to begin the postseason ticket process.
* Nick Swisher donated $25,000 to pay for an additional postgame fireworks display at Progressive Field on Sept. 21 against the Astros.
* Jaret Wright, who pitched for Cleveland from 1997-2002 and started Game 7 of the 1997 World Series against the Marlins, threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @CAwesomeheimer.