Salazar could provide Indians big boost in stretch run
Right-hander Danny Salazar put himself on the map after his dominant big-league debut against the Toronto Blue Jays back on July 11. But as the Major League playoffs loom and the Cleveland Indians in need of some extra help in their bullpen, the 23-year-old could soon be called upon to fill a role unfamiliar to him.
Regardless of whether he’s starting or making a relief appearance, Salazar is ready to embrace any situation the Indians choose to put him in.
“That’d be great (to pitch out of the bullpen),” Salazar said. “That’s their decision but whatever they want me to do I’m going to do and I’m going to give 100 percent.”
Salazar’s name has been swirling around as a possible candidate to join the big league bullpen for days now and with his rocket-like arm and the ability to command his off-speed pitches, it’s not difficult to envision the right-hander in such a role.
The biggest issue for Salazar would be altering his warm-up routine. But even that doesn’t appear to be a major issue.
For a typical start, Salazar throws anywhere from 30 to 35 pitches to get loose. As a reliever, Salazar said he’s not quite sure how long it would take him to feel game ready.
“That’s going to be a new experience for me if they call me up again as a reliever,” Salazar said. “I’ll have to deal with it before the game and in practice when I’m up there.”
Triple-A Columbus manger Chris Tremie, who also managed Salazar in 2012 with Double-A Akron, said that he’s confident the Dominican product will thrive at the next level, no matter what the capacity may be. Salazar just needs to continue to fine-tune his skills with the Clippers until he is recalled.
“The important thing right now is that he’s using his time here (in Columbus) to keep getting better and I think he’s going to be pretty special in the future,” Tremie said.
Salazar, ranked as the No. 6 prospect in the Indians organization, has been making huge strides ever since undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2010 and now feels that his arm is near full strength.
“It’s feeling great right now,” Salazar said of his arm. “I know I’m pitching in a limited count but I’m just working with that. I’m working hard every day and every time I have to pitch. I don’t worry about it too much.”
Cleveland has been taking extreme caution with the right-hander. In 2011, he was restricted to just 14 2/3 innings between Low-A Lake County and the Arizona League Indians. For 2012, Salazar was bumped up to 87 2/3 innings in his combined time with High-A Carolina and Akron.
The right-hander has put his full trust in Cleveland’s medical staff, stating that “they know what they’re doing.”
By the looks of it, they sure do.
After beginning 2013 with the Aeros, Salazar was later promoted to Columbus and has done nothing but dazzle Ohio’s capital with his electric arm and high-90s fastball.
In his 88 innings of work in the minors this season, Salazar has compiled a 5-5 record with a 2.86 ERA. He has fanned 121 total batters against just 24 walks and the opposition is hitting a measly .222 off of the prospect.
Tremie has witnessed the right-hander grow and improve with each and every start.
“He’s progressively getting better,” Tremie said. “The arm strength has been there but over his last seven starts, it’s been a little better every time. There’s a little more attention to detail on his part, a little more ability to make the pitch that he needs to get the ball down and away and go in when he needs to. Those are the signs you look for and he’s throwing a lot of good ones right now.”
Signed out of the Dominic Republic as an amateur free agent in 2006, Salazar was finally called up to the majors on July 11.
The move didn’t come as a surprise for the pitcher but it was definitely a moment that he will never forget.
“I wasn’t shocked,” Salazar said with a slight chuckle. “It was a very exciting moment for me. I just went there (Cleveland) the next day and got ready.”
Pitted against reining National League Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey and a potent Blue Jays lineup that featured All-Stars such as Jose Reyes, Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, Salazar certainly had his work cut out for him.
However, the daunting task was turned into a small chore for the pitcher in his major league baptism. Not only was he effective, he was spectacular.
Salazar took a no-hit bid into the sixth inning and surrendered just one run while striking out seven batters en route to his first career victory.
His outing was also one for the record books as he became just the fourth pitcher in ML history to defeat a Cy Young Award winner in their debut and simultaneously amassed the most strikeouts by an Indians pitcher in their debut since Luis Tiant fanned 11 New York Yankees in 1964.
When asked about what clicked for him in his first taste of the majors, Salazar’s answer was simple - “everything.”
“I’ve been working down here in Triple-A to keep my ball down - fastballs, changeups, slider,” Salazar continued. “Everything was working that day and that was a big key for me.”
He was optioned back to the Clippers the following day and has continued to blow away the competition.
Most recently, Salazar racked up 11 punch outs and allowed just three hits in five shutout innings against the Durham Bulls on July 28.
For now, Salazar must play the waiting game. Sooner or later Cleveland will call his name again and the opportunity to be a cog in the Indians’ playoff hunt would be a dream come true for the young phenom.
“It’d be terrific,” Salazar said with an ear-to-ear grin. “This is the first year I got called up. They told me that they’re going to call me up again in September hopefully so if I’m back there and we make the playoffs, it’d be very exciting.”
If he is moved to the pen, Francona and Callaway will need a plan on how to use him.
I am hoping the light comes on for Carrasco and Bauer, and that Salazar continues to make strides, because these are 3 arms with true F.O.R. talent.