Cleveland Indians starting pitching prospect Danny Salazar delivered five near-perfect innings for Triple-A Columbus on Friday night against the Buffalo Bisons.
After just 52 pitches (40 strikes) — as the organization continues to monitor his recovery post-Tommy John surgery — the 23-year-old right-hander struck out eight and retired 15 of the 16 batters he faced. It would have been a perfect outing, but one batter reached base on a fourth inning error by first baseman Chun Chen. There were three groundball outs, two pop outs and two flyouts.
Update: The Clippers pitching staff eventually lost the combined no-hit bid in the ninth inning on a ninth-inning two-out bloop single by Anthony Gose.
With the outing, Salazar now has a 2.71 ERA in 21 minor league outings this season. He has a sensational 129 strikeouts (12.5 K/9) against only 24 walks (2.3 BB/9) in 93.0 innings pitched. Only three times has he been allowed to pitch into the sixth inning.
Per a most recent update, his strikeout per nine inning ratio leads all 509 minor league pitchers with at least 80 innings this season. His 5.38 K/BB ratio also ranks 14th among all of these pitchers.
Salazar dazzled in his MLB debut back on July 11. He struck out seven in 6.1 innings pitched, allowing just one run on two hits. His 94 pitches tied a season high. He brought a no-hitter into the sixth inning against reigning Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey and the Toronto Blue Jays. That was Salazar’s only game in Cleveland so far this season.
Entering the year, he was a top-10 organizational prospect, but many still wondered why the Indians decided to protect him on the 40-man roster following the 2011 season. After earning the early May promotion to Columbus, he suddenly was catching the eyes of evaluators around baseball.
It’s likely that Indians manager Terry Francona will utilize Salazar as a surprise bullpen option down the stretch, assuming he has yet to reach his innings limit for the season. Entering 2014, it’s possible he’ll compete for a starting rotation job.