Branyan reports to Indians' camp as a starter

BY foxsports • February 25, 2010

It took a decade longer than expected, but Russell Branyan finally has an everyday job with the Cleveland Indians.

Branyan, known for his towering home runs and massive strikeout totals, signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Indians on Wednesday. The 34-year-old veteran will get the majority of playing time at first base.

``There are a lot of good, positive things in coming back,'' said Branyan, who reported to camp Thursday. ``This is where I started. To get this opportunity, it was hard to turn down. It means a lot to me.''

Branyan came through Cleveland's minor league system in the late 1990s. It was thought he would join the list of sluggers the Indians produced during the decade, which included Jim Thome, Manny Ramirez and Richie Sexson. Standing 6-foot-3 with a big swing, Branyan hit 30 or more homers in three minor league seasons, including 40 in 1996.

The comparisons to the other sluggers ended when Branyan reached Cleveland. Unable to make consistent contact, he was never able to stay in the lineup. After giving Branyan numerous chances, the Indians, weary of the strikeouts and lack of production, traded him to Cincinnati during the 2002 season.

Eight years and eight organizations later, Branyan believes he's learned from his experiences.

``I think I understand the game a lot better,'' he said. ``I understand people a lot better. I don't let small things bother me as much anymore.''

General manager Mark Shapiro was the Indians' director of minor league operations while Branyan, Cleveland's No. 7 pick in 1998, came through the system. When Branyan was released by teams during the 2004 and 2007 seasons, Shapiro signed him to minor league contracts so he could get some playing time until a big league opportunity came about.

The relationship between the club and player is a big reason Branyan chose the Indians over Tampa Bay, which he played for in 2006 and was also interested in him.

``He's a guy who wants to be here, which I think is a great asset to this team,'' Shapiro said. ``He's faced adversity and challenges. He's had to claw his way back from the minor leagues when no one believed in him. He has a chance to impact a lot of the younger players here positively.''

Branyan landed with Seattle in 2009 and produced career highs in home runs (31) and RBIs (76) before a herniated disk ended his season on Aug. 28. The back injury probably cost him a chance at a multiyear deal with the Mariners. The Indians gave Branyan an extensive physical before finalizing the contract, which includes a $5 million mutual option for 2011.

``I worked hard this offseason to get stronger,'' he said. ``It cleared up. I've fought little back issues in the past and been able to get through them. I wouldn't be here today if we all didn't feel like we can manage it.''

Branyan hit .251 and struck out 149 times in 431 at-bats last season, but believes he's matured as a hitter.

``I understand when pitchers are pitching around you,'' Branyan said. ``A lot of my strikeouts or non-quality at-bats in the past came when pitchers weren't giving me anything to hit. I think I've learned how to identify those situations and make the most of them.''

NOTES: The Indians will hold their first full-squad workout Friday under new manager Manny Acta. ... Acta said all players are ready for full baseball activities, including OFs Grady Sizemore (groin and elbow surgery) and Matt LaPorta (toe and hip surgery). ... Acta said the Indians will probably break camp with 12 pitchers on the roster.



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