At the beginning of the season, the Indians’ Danny Salazar was nearly everyone’s preseason darling. After dominating over 10 starts in Cleveland, posting an 11.3 K:9 over 52 innings, the then, 23-year-old earned the start in the Tribe’s Wild Card loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. Salazar then was given the Indians’ home-opener start on April 4 against the Minnesota Twins, a result of the high expectations that were placed on the 24-year-old heading into the 2014 season. A lot of the club’s hopes relied on Salazar’s electric arm, and while we were able to observe the horrendous start to the season, which resulted in his demotion to Triple-A Columbus, we are just as likely to see his rebirth into reliability and usefulness over the rest of the season for the pitching-starved Indians.
For a better understanding of what may have caused Salazar’s putrid early season results, you can go here:
— Beyond the Box Score (@BtBScore) July 23, 2014
The drop in velocity is nothing new in the realm of pitching struggles, the same issues could be the main factor in Justin Masterson‘s awful statistics thus far, but it likely isn’t due to a total loss of stuff. The piece mentioned above blames velocity, and there are several things that could have led to that loss of velocity.
After tossing 149 innings in 2013, arm fatigue could have easily been the factor in Salazar’s velocity drop. After all, the right-hander had logged all of 102.1 innings in 2011 and 2012 after having Tommy John surgery on August 10, 2010, having pitched just 32.1 innings that season prior to succumbing to injury.
There had to be a huge physical adjustment on Salazar’s part to be capable of tossing 149 innings after having logged just 134.2 innings over the previous three seasons, and, despite the club’s best efforts to limit his innings last season, the violent nature of beaming 96 to 100 mile-per-hour fastballs over and over again likely wore on Salazar’s arm. While he still sits comfortably in the mid-90’s, perhaps there wasn’t much of a problem to begin with.
As patient as the Indians were running Masterson out every fifth day, prior to his landing on the disabled list with right knee soreness, the club was quick to pull the trigger on their young right-hander’s demotion. Salazar certainly didn’t do himself any favors with his high pitch counts, particularly in his earliest starts of the season, but he allowed eight earned runs in 15.1 innings over his last three starts (4.70 ERA), while posting a 16:6 K:BB and allowing 18 hits (1.57 WHIP – not good), but he was heading in the right direction.
It is hard to say that Salazar was thriving with an ERA close to five and nearly one-and-a-half base runners per inning, but he was. His velocity was up (approaching an average fastball velocity of 95 miles-per-hour over his final three starts in May), while he was improving his ERA from a season worst 7.85 on April 22 to 5.53 on May 15. Salazar was all over the place in his results in Columbus prior to his promotion on July 22, but he was thriving towards the end of his time there, posting a 3.35 ERA and 1.41 WHIP with a 66:25 K:BB over 51 innings in his final nine starts for the Clippers, thriving in his six home starts at Huntington Park, a notorious hitter-friendly minor league environment.
After Sunday’s impressive start against the Kansas City Royals (7 IP, 7 H, 3 ER, 7:0 K:BB, 112 pitches/77 strikes), Salazar’s ERA stands at 4.96, which would sit comfortably in a pretty horrific starting rotation. However, five days from Sunday will be Justin Masterson’s scheduled return date, Friday, when the Indians begin a three-game series with the Texas Rangers. Will the Indians bump Salazar from the roster and option him, once again, to Columbus, or will they give Salazar an extra day of rest and bring him back on Saturday for the Jim Thome statue celebration at Progressive Field? Justin Masterson’s last start in Columbus (6.2 IP, 5 ER, 4:6 K:BB) doesn’t really warrant anyone’s immediate removal from the rotation.
There isn’t any reason for Salazar to be removed from the rotation this week. With all of the roster moves this season, which have been necessary due to the overuse of the bullpen, Salazar’s presence in the rotation is needed. The 24-year-old possesses the liveliest arm in the organization, and he has made the necessary adjustments to continue to prove himself at the major league level. If the team is willing to lean on the arm of Justin Masterson, who is heading towards free agency and, potentially, a trade, for most of the season, why not lean on a potential cornerstone of the franchise.
For all that Salazar has struggled with this season, he appears to be heading in the right direction. We should all be sure that the Indians organization has competent coaches in Columbus manager Chris Tremie and pitching coach Tony Arnold, but it was be absurd to consider Salazar and the Indians better off with him in Ohio’s capital city. Danny Salazar has the stuff and the future to warrant the risk, and while he may struggle at times, as most young pitchers do, he is, and has been, one of the Indians’ top five pitchers for the entire season, whether he was on the active roster or not.