When Cleveland Indians’ prospect Danny Salazar made him major league debut on July 11, the 23-year-old right-hander tossed six innings of one run ball, throwing high-90’s fastballs and pounding the strike zone, tossing 64 of his 89 pitches for strikes. With Zach McAllister returning from his finger injury and surprising consistency, for the most part, out of Scott Kazmir and Ubaldo Jimenez, there doesn’t appear to be room for Salazar in the current rotation.
However, the Indians don’t appear to be forcing the issue anyway. In his last 10 appearances (nine starts), Salazar has pitched: 4, 4.2, 1.2, 5, 5, 3, 5, 5, 3 (relief appearance after returning from Cleveland), and 4 innings. In 22 starts in 2012, his return from Tommy John surgery, Salazar only reached 87.2 innings, which is understandable if the club was being cautious with their young arm; however, is there any reason for the babying of Salazar at this point? Is there a reason why his innings are being so limited?
With 110 strikeouts in 83 minor league innings over 19 games (18 starts), Salazar likely gets his pitch counts up quickly, but why is he not touching six innings in Columbus when he could do so when pitching at the major league level? Are innings more valuable than pitch counts when trying to limit a youngsters innings? When is it the right time to push a reconstructed elbow ligament to determine if Salazar can handle being a starter?
It appears as though someone in the organization doesn’t feel that Salazar is capable of handling the workload still. If that is the case, why is Salazar not working in the bullpen right now?
Salazar averaged 95.2 miles per hour on his fastball in his lone start, touching 98 or 99 a couple of times, based on Tom Hamilton‘s radio play-by-play. His impressive first start showed that he could get major league players out, and considering he wouldn’t be facing opposing hitters multiple times in a game, he would likely find the same success, or better, pitching out of the bullpen.
While he doesn’t provide the left-handed arm that the Indians so desperately need, the Indians could really use a relief pitcher with shutdown stuff. The bullpen is 24th in MLB in ERA (4.06) and 22nd in WHIP (1.35). Bullpens are valuable in team success, just look at the top 10 bullpen ERA’s and you’ll see: Pittsburgh, Atlanta, Oakland, Tampa Bay, Cincinnati, and Texas, all contending teams. If the bullpen didn’t have 19 blown saves this season, would the Tribe be in a different situation in the standings? Three games back could be three games up.
So, if Salazar isn’t gaining stamina and reaching higher innings and pitch count limits, why isn’t he in Cleveland working out of the bullpen, where he could actually help a contending team? Why is he not taking the innings that the club has given to Matt Langwell, Nick Hagadone, or even Bryan Shaw this season?
While there hasn’t been much time that has passed since his impressive debut, it is concerning that Salazar has pitched just seven innings over two weeks. As the trade deadline approaches, Salazar could very well become trade bait to upgrade the bullpen, but one should wonder if Salazar is capable of doing that himself.
The inability to commit to Salazar is another example of inconsistent handling of the club’s prospects. The up-and-down, non-committal nature that the club has handled Lonnie Chisenhall, Trevor Bauer, and, to an extent, Matt LaPorta (in the past), could be the same road that Salazar is heading towards.
If Salazar is a starter, give him innings and increase his pitch count.
If Salazar is a reliever, get his behind to Cleveland, where he can help the club right now.