With all of the hype surrounding the acquisition of Trevor Bauer by the Indians this past offseason, it was easy to neglect the stable of young arms already within the organization. Bauer was highly regarded around baseball’s inner circle for his arsenal of pitches to go along with an A+ work ethic, eccentric as it may be. However, because baseball rarely follows any sort of predetermined script another young hurler has stolen the spotlight here in 2013.
Of course, I’m talking about none other than 23-year-old phenom, Danny Salazar.
The young right hander has been the epitome of taking an opportunity and running with it. Making his Major League debut on July 11 against the Blue Jays, Salazar threw six innings allowing only one run to cross the plate on two hits and a walk. Even more impressive were the seven strikeouts he collected and the no hit bid he took into the top of the sixth inning.
Salazar was so good that it left many wondering what the plan would be moving forward. His name had popped up in several trade rumors across the internet leading into the start and had many speculating that Salazar’s opportunity was an open audition for potential trade partners. To his credit, Salazar was almost too good. The performance rendered him untradeable and would have incited a riot on the corner of Carnegie and Ontario had he been included in any trade proposal.
However, the Indians did not rush to any irrational conclusions one way or the other. They didn’t try to force Salazar into the rotation nor did they try to capitalize on his success in the trade market. Instead, they sent him back to Columbus to again bide his time and wait for an opportunity to come. A little over a month later Salazar would get that opportunity and he hasn’t looked back since.
Salazar has made three more starts since his illustrious debut and while they all may not have been as spectacular, each has had its own unique set of positives and negatives. Admittedly the sample size here is remarkably small, four starts does not a career make, but it is enough to make you wonder if the Indians have stumbled onto something special with Danny Salazar.
Taking a look at Salazar’s stats from his first four starts, it is clear just how dominant he has been. He has struck out 29 batters in 23 innings of work. That’s good enough for 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings of work. In fact, to put that in the proper historical perspective, Salazar’s 29 strikeouts are the second most all-time for an Indians’ starter in his first four starts. Herb Score leads the charge with 40 strikeouts in his first four career starts back in 1955. Luis Tiant has the third most with 24 in 1964.
Beyond just the strikeouts has been the guile with which Salazar has pitched. He hasn’t backed down or cowherd under the weight of the moment. Instead, Salazar has met each challenge head on and the results have followed. However, it has helped that the Indians are carefully monitoring his work load and keeping him out of situations in which he could fail, at least for the most part. In much the same way as with Ubaldo Jimenez, Terry Francona and Mickey Callaway have very clearly been attempting to build Salazar’s confidence through a series of successes. They aren’t going to allow him to stay out on the mound and pitch himself into a disaster.
In addition to building confidence, another reason for this is due largely in part to Salazar’s continuing recovery from Tommy John surgery. As is the case with many teams in baseball today, pitch counts and arm maintenance have become critical. You can see from the pitch counts that the Indians have not wanted to extend Salazar beyond a certain threshold of pitches, typically somewhere in the 75 to 85 range. With the exception of his August 7th start against Detroit, Salazar has been limited to how many pitches he has been allowed to throw and it is quite noticeable when you consider most pitchers get to at least the 100 pitch mark on a regular basis.
The only real negative you can place on Salazar has been his propensity to give up the long ball. He’s coughed up five home runs in his four starts. One of them did come off of the bat of Miguel Cabrera, which is forgivable. Many a pitcher has fallen victim to Cabrera’s power. It’s the other four homers that leave you scratching your head. Austin Jackson, Trevor Plouffe, Brian Dozier, and J.B. Shuck. That’s not exactly a murderers row of raw offensive power. But again, the sample size is much too small to indicate whether or not this is a real problem. It hasn’t been throughout his minor league career, but the big leagues are a whole other animal.
So what’s the verdict?
In all honesty, it is much too early to begin labeling Danny Salazar as this, that, or the other. The sample size is just too limited. How Salazar responds once hitters have an adequate book and video on him will reveal a lot. Another major step will occur once Terry Francona allows him to break the 100 pitch mark and venture deeper into games. Can he work his way through late inning rallies and squeeze an extra inning out of his arm when it’s ready to fall off? What about on the night’s when he doesn’t have his best stuff? Can he out-pitch opposing hitters rather than channeling his inner Charizard and throwing upper 90’s heat past them? These are things we will learn in time.
However, despite all of that you have to like what you’ve seen out of Salazar so far. He has far exceeded any and all expectations. In comparison to Trevor Bauer, who is a complete mess right now with his delivery, Salazar looks like the more Major League ready pitcher and the one destined to do great things. Does that make him special? Perhaps, but only time will tell if Salazar is the real deal or not.