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Tribe Happenings: Salazar, Carrasco both need to pick it up

Tribe Happenings: Salazar, Carrasco both need to pick it up
Danny Salazar (Photo: AP)
April 21, 2014
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Some news, notes and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Salazar and Carrasco dilemma

We are now three weeks into the season and the Indians are seeing some positive performances from some players, but to date there have been more negative performances – some of which are very concerning. While the lineup continues to try and find any sort of consistency, it is the starting rotation which has had its problems in the early going and has yet to get on track.

Two major players in the inconsistent showing so far in the starting rotation are Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar. Carrasco is only the fifth starter by label, so a team can live with some inconsistency from that spot in the rotation, but Salazar has underwhelmed greatly. When a team has two-fifths of the rotation really struggling, and then another two-fifths inCorey Kluber and Justin Masterson good one start then bad the next, that does not bode well for the success of a team – and the Indians’ 8-10 record shows that.

Carrasco, 27, has made three starts and is 0-2 with a 7.31 ERA, and in 16.0 innings he has allowed 19 hits, 1 homer, 8 walks and has 17 strikeouts. Interestingly, he has a 3.64 FIP and has been getting a lot of strikeouts (9.5 K/9), so it bears watching if he can harness his command a little more (4.5 BB/9) and limit the hits whether or not performance will follow.

Then again, at this point Carrasco has done nothing but prove to be a two or three inning pitcher. He has great stuff, but for whatever reason the second time through a lineup he really struggles. He showed it on Sunday when he breezed through the Blue Jays lineup for three innings but as soon as it flipped over and everyone faced him a second time he was knocked around the ballpark. And that is more than just a general observation as his history says as such. Over his career when he sees a batter the first time in a game they are hitting .246 with a .689 OPS, but the second time (.344 AVG, .937 OPS) and third time around (.327 AVG, .935 OPS) he gets touched up much more.

Those numbers show a pitcher who may just be a reliever. The Indians are doing their due diligence with trying to find out one last time whether he can be a starter for them as they should - but so far all he has done is solidify the belief that he is a reliever only in the big leagues. Sure, the stuff is exciting and you hate to give up on an arm like his as a starter, but eventually you have to pull the plug and listen to what his numbers and performance are telling you.

In the short term the Indians would be wise to give Carrasco another start or two and go from there with him, but long term I believe he eventually will end up in the bullpen for the Indians where he may ultimately prove to be most effective and really impact the team. Lots of failed starters who struggled with inconsistency have gone on to have good careers in the bullpen.

But it is not so cut and dry when considering to remove Carrasco from the rotation because the Indians have another starter in Salazar who has been equally as frustrating in the early going this season. In fact, the 24-year old Salazar has less of a track record and does not have the prospect pedigree that Carrasco had during his time in the minors.

Salazar has struggled in the early going where in three starts he is 0-2 with a 7.71 ERA, and in 14.0 innings has allowed 19 hits, 4 homers, 8 walks and has 17 strikeouts. While he does have an impressive 10.9 K/9, there is no silver lining with his FIP like with Carrasco as Salazar has a 6.08 FIP. His numbers are ugly across the board, and the struggles stem from a walk-rate which has doubled and hitters touching him up on a much more consistent basis.

What we are seeing with Salazar is a league that has adjusted to him. He came in last season as an unknown to many in the league and he used that as an advantage, but now the advanced scouting reports are out and he is now starting to face some hitters for the second or third time. His fastball command has been erratic which has hurt the impact of his excellent changeup, and his slider is a below average offering right now that hitters are practically just spitting on and don’t bother to swing at – not to mention it looks awfully similar to his changeup.  It wouldn’t surprise me to see Salazar work on modifying that slider into more of a cutter in order to get more separation from his changeup.

Bottom line, Salazar needs an effective third offering and needs to start more consistently locating down in the zone because you can’t survive in the big leagues as a two-pitch starting pitcher and one who has a pretty straight fastball that is up in the zone with little movement.

There is no doubt that the starting rotation is a very promising group, but right now they are all misfiring collectively and not yet hitting on all cylinders. Zach McAllister has been the Indians most steady starter, but even he is going to hit a tough stretch at some point. Hopefully when that happens – if it happens – both Salazar and Carrasco have found their way and are pitching well. Otherwise, the Indians will very soon look to replace not just one but both of them by calling up Trevor Bauer and maybe even Josh Tomlin in order to help jumpstart the rotation and have more consistency with those two spots in the rotation.

Getting defensive about Gomes

It’s early. The sample sizes are small. But sometimes there are trends both good and bad that develop for an individual or team over the first few weeks of the season that have a huge impact on the rest of the season. Some players or teams are unable to sustain a hot start, while for others it is the confidence and momentum builder needed to have a big year. The same goes for those teams and players who get off to a sluggish start as some rebound while others see the struggles continue and their season ends up spiraling out of control.

This is what makes it tough when looking at the performance of Yan Gomes so far this season. Last season he hit .294 with a .826 OPS in 88 games, and while the general feeling going into this season was he would probably see a kick back in his performance, the question was how much? Well, so far he is hitting .245 with 2 HR, 6 RBI and .720 OPS, numbers that are actually quite solid for a guy hitting in the bottom third of the lineup and especially a guy whose primary focus is on playing defense and handling a pitching staff.

Though his increased strikeout rate and .305 OBP bears watching, the problem to date has not been Gomes’ issues at the plate, it has been his defense. Last season Gomes seemingly established himself as one of the best young catchers in the game with the ability to shut an opposing team’s running game down, lead a pitching staff, call a good game, show exceptional framing skills and just be an overall plus defender. He impacted the team in so many ways with his defense last season and the feeling was he would do that and then some again this season.

But so far Gomes has actually taken a significant step back in all areas, and has actually hurt the team with some critical errors early in the season which have contributed to losses. His throws to second base have been inconsistent and been very off line in some cases, and he’s also let quite a few more balls get past him – be it as a wild pitch or passed ball.

The numbers defensively are ugly. He already has five errors in 16 games this season compared to the three he had in 88 games last season and the four he had in 131 career games coming into it. On top of that he already has three passed balls this season when he had just four passed balls all of last season. He is still throwing out runners at a good rate this season (36.4%), but teams are no doubt taking the risk and trying to run on him knowing that he has been inconsistent with his throws and is susceptible to making mistakes right now.

It will be interesting to see how Gomes comes out of this. After his great showing last season the Indians were such strong believers in his ability to catch for them that they signed him to a long contract extension with $23 million in guaranteed money. The question now is whether he is putting too much pressure on himself to live up to that contract, if it is just a rough patch he will get out of, or if the Yan Gomes we are seeing now is the real Yan Gomes and the one the Blue Jays were fine with giving up as filler in the trade for Esmil Rogers.

Hopefully it is the former because if it is the latter and Gomes was just a flash in the pan last year then that contract is going to hurt them down the road. But there is a long way to go before we should be concerned with him being a bust or not. Let’s see how things play out this season and where his performance rests at the end of the season before we start to go down that avenue. In the meantime, let’s hope he can turn things around at least defensively as it would go a long way at helping get this pitching staff back on track.

Giambi up, Wood down

As expected the Indians activated designated hitter Jason Giambi from the 15-day disabled list on Monday and made room on the roster for him by optioning right-hander Blake Wood to Triple-A Columbus.

Giambi, 43, will once again settle into his role as the team leader and a left-handed power bat off the bench. The Indians have been a little up and down this season and you can bet that manager Terry Francona is hoping that the presence of “G” will help stabilize the team, not to mention give him a left-handed bat off the bench that he can use late in games.

What will be interesting to see is how Francona mixes Giambi into the lineup. On Monday night both Lonnie Chisenhall and Giambi are in the lineup, but that is because Carlos Santana is out for a much needed mental health day which allows Chisenhall to play third base while Giambi is the DH. But going forward, Francona will have to get creative in order to get at bats for both Chisenhall and Giambi against right-handed pitching since both are vying for time at the DH spot. Obviously, Chisenhall is a no-brainer to play there at this point, but Francona likes to stick with his “guys” and will undoubtedly get Giambi in at DH against right-handed starters on a decent basis.

It will also be interesting to see what Giambi has left – if anything – in the proverbial tank. For all of the big hits he had last season he still only hit .183 with a .653 OPS and struck out 25.9% of the time. He had a rough showing in his rehab assignment with Double-A Akron last week going 0-for-8 with four strikeouts in three games, and he did not really hit much this spring in the limited time he played before his rib injury. Obviously both he and the Indians know he is near the end of his line as a player, but there is still some value to him in a limited role that they want to see play out. If he struggles and shows he is done then I don’t think it will take long for the Indians to react to that and consider a change in his role.

Wood’s assignment to Columbus is not much of a surprise. He was the last man in the pen before Chen-Chang Lee arrived, and Lee has outpitched him in the brief amount of opportunities both have had to date. Francona especially showed some confidence in Lee in high leverage late inning situations using him in the ninth inning of a one-run game on Friday night when he brought him in to face Jose Bautista. Wood has struggled with walks and without the command his high velocity stuff is just not effective, so you can bet he will go back to Columbus to work through some delivery adjustments and improve his fastball command.

This is the first time this season the Indians are going with a 12 pitcher and 13 position player setup, which means they now have a seven-man bullpen. Even with a starting rotation that is inconsistent, the Indians feel comfortable with the current setup because all seven of the arms in the bullpen can be used in almost any situation. Also, with the Indians going out to San Francisco later this week for interleague play, they probably felt it more important to keep the versatile Elliot Johnson around awhile longer even though he has not played in over a week.

Parting shots

Right-handed pitcher Shaun Marcum is working out in Arizona and is currently out to three innings an outing in extended spring training games. There is no timetable at the moment for him to go to a club – likely Triple-A Columbus – though once he is cleared and able to throw 85-90 pitches and can give some length he should be activated. … The Indians are hitting .215 with a .628 OPS against left-handed pitching. Only the Royals have been worse in the American League when facing left-handed pitching. … The Indians are still dead last in all of baseball in attendance at 16,341 fans per game. In fact, the AL Central has three teams that are at the bottom in attendance in the league as the White Sox (29th) and Royals (28th) are just a tick above the Indians in attendance.

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

April 23, 2014 - 9:07 AM EDT
I think that we need to make some changes since we are going in the wrong direction. First change, put Carrasco in the pen and cut Scott Achinson. I agree that Danny should stay on team but take CC Lee's place and work out of the pen and sent CC Lee back to minors. Bring up Trevor B and Josh T to start.
I think Carlos S take some time at 1st base to give Nick a rest and what has happened to Ryan playing some right field or even getting off bench. Murphy can DH. I think that line-up needs so moves and realize Terry will do that soon. Looking at team there seems to be no fun and only job. Bring back the rally chicken.
April 22, 2014 - 9:04 AM EDT
Carlos Santana...Lou Marson...and now Yan Gomes...

How many catchers have to regress defensively before the Tribe moves on from Sandy Alomar? No, I do not think he is the reason for the struggles but sure doesn't look like a solution...
April 22, 2014 - 8:50 AM EDT
In Salazar's last start against Detroit his fastball was in the low 90's. After he get lit up he started throwing 96 mph. It looked like he got mad and knew he was getting pulled, so he just started airing it out. It's clear he was taking something off it.

After he struck out 10 batters in under 4 innings he was told to throw less pitches and concentrate on limiting walks and hits rather than striking out a lot of batters. It looks like he deliberately backed off on his fastball to try and hit locations and induce weak contact. It worked for a while as he gave up one run in four innings while striking out only three. Then he walked the first two batters in the 5th and fell behind Kinsler, who belted a 3-run homer on a fastball down the middle.

It looks like Salazar is still searching for his most effective style. He's taking something off the fastball to try and limit his pitches and go deeper into games. I think they should just let him air it out and go as far as he can while dominating the hitters - even if it's just five good innings. The approach of taking something off the fastball and hitting spots may not be his best tactic.

That being said, he was fine until he walked the 8th and 9th hitters to lead off the 5th inning. Out of nowhere his command went from very good to horrible.
April 21, 2014 - 11:22 PM EDT
Yeah, I am confident that Salazar will turn it around, but at the same time I am not stubborn with the fact that there may be a chance where if he continues to scuffle that going back to Columbus is not a bad thing. I felt after last season that the expectations with him got a little out of hand.....the guy is still learning and right now is still a middle to backend starter until he proves otherwise that he can remain healthy, consistently pitch deep into games, and he is able to maintain his performance every five days. I have a feeling that this is going to be an up and down year for Salazar which may be a disappointment to many, but I think he is better off for it long term. I hope I am pleasantly surprised.

Yes, Carrasco is a different situation than Salazar because of the lack of options, though I think the issue is just different in that Carrasco can easily be taken out of the rotation....he just needs to be put in the pen and someone there (Lee) would need to go to Columbus.
April 21, 2014 - 7:26 PM EDT
Carrasco is out of options so he presents a much different dilemma that Salazar. Also, in the recent past there did not seem as if the Indians had any options. Now they have a few. Marcum is working out at extended spring training. Bauer is looking very good/ Even house seems to have hit the ground running. If Carlos doesn't shape up soon, it might be time to consider moving him.
April 21, 2014 - 6:44 PM EDT
Tony,,if danny salazar doesnt staart showing signs of 2013 fairly soon he may need to reaclivate his knowledge of the various ways to get around columber dublin and hilliard and westerville et al. he only had 59 innings in AAA so it wouldnt hurt to send him back to develop consistency in all three pitches so when he comes back he is effective. zac, corey and others have been sent back to tweak some things.

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