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Encarnacion's ankle injury could push Indians' Brantley to the forefront in ALDS

Cleveland Indians' Edwin Encarnacion is carried off the field after rolling his ankle at second base in the second inning of Game 2 of baseball's American League Division Series against the New York Yankees, Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Phil Long) OHTD120
Cleveland Indians' Edwin Encarnacion is carried off the field after rolling his ankle at second base in the second inning of Game 2 of baseball's American League Division Series against the New York Yankees, Friday, Oct. 6, 2017, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Phil Long) OHTD120
Published Oct. 7, 2017

CLEVELAND — With one awkward Edwin Encarnacion step to get back to second base, the Indians' Michael Brantley might have suddenly become an important part of the American League Division Series.

DH Encarnacion was injured in the bottom of the first inning of Game 2 of the ALDS on Friday night at Progressive Field and had to be helped off the field with a trainer on either side. The Indians announced it as a right ankle sprain, but said Encarnacion would undergo further evaluation.

He was replaced by Brantley, plagued by a right ankle injury since Aug. 8.

The Indians had tied the score in the bottom of the first and had Encarnacion on second base and Carlos Santana on first with one out. Jay Bruce lined out to shortstop Didi Gregorius, who was playing behind the second base bag, and he tagged the bag as Encarnacion tried to get back. Encarnacion was initially ruled safe, but the call was reversed by a replay review.

Encarnacion jammed his right foot into the bag and it bent awkwardly at the ankle as he fell face down into the dirt.

On Jan. 5, the Indians signed Encarnacion to a three-year, $60 million guaranteed contract with a $5 million signing bonus. The three-time All-Star and former Toronto Blue Jay responded with his sixth consecutive 30-home run season, finishing with 38 homers and 107 RBIs, leading Cleveland in both categories. In the second half, he hit 20 home runs and drove in 59. He also had a career-high 104 walks this season.

Encarnacion's 38 home runs were the most by an Indian since Travis Hafner hit 42 in 2006.

In Thursday's ALDS opener, Encarnacion went 0-for-3 with a walk and a run scored.

ESPN's Buster Olney tweeted that Encarnacion left the Indians clubhouse on crutches and in a walking boot and had a suitcase and a backpack with him as he got into a cart.

The Indians left themselves versatility when they put together their postseason roster and that will now be tested.

Before Game 2, Indians manager Terry Francona was excited about the possibility that Brantley would play in Game 3 Sunday in New York. Francona said that would be determined after today's workout in Yankee Stadium. Brantley was summoned for designated hitter duty less than four hours later. He went 0-for-5 with two strikeouts in Friday's game.

It has been a tough two seasons for Brantley, who played only 11 games in 2016 following right shoulder surgery in November 2015. He also needed biceps surgery in August 2016 and was forced to watch the Indians' raucous postseason celebrations from a distance.

A two-time All-Star, Brantley hit .299 in 90 games this season but was limited to 24 games (22 starts) in the second half. A right ankle sprain twice sent him to the disabled list and he didn't return from the second stint until the final weekend of the season.

When he was hurt against the Colorado Rockies, Brantley stood 15th in the American League in batting (.299) and 20th in on-base percentage (.358). Brantley still reached base safely in 26 of his last 29 games.

Brantley did not appear in Game 1 of the ALDS Thursday. His only other postseason appearance came in the AL wild-card game in 2013, when he went 1-for-4 in a loss to the Rays.

The Indians were plagued by injuries during last year's run to the World Series. The Indians' rotation was reduced to three after Danny Salazar was shut down with a strained flexor muscle, his fourth arm injury of the season, and Carlos Carrasco fractured a bone in his right hand on Sept. 30. Then Trevor Bauer cut his pinkie finger trying to repair one of his drones before his scheduled start in the American League Championship Series, but the accident did not end his season.