Is Danny Salazar back?

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It seems longer ago, but all it took was a mid-July afternoon on the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. I sat next to TD, roughly thirty yards from the pitchers mound housed within Progressive Field, as Danny Salazar made his Major League debut. I had planned to only stay for a few innings, spending what would otherwise be my lunch hour taking in some Tribe baseball. We didn’t know what to totally expect, but all it would take was a smattering of 99-mile-per-hour fastballs mixed with off-speed stuff some 20 miles-per-hour slower and it was over: The legend was being penned.

Salazar retired batter after batter, not allowing a hit until the sixth inning. Jose Reyes was Salazar’s first victim. In the second inning, Salazar struck out the side. In the third, Edwin Encarnacion, one of the league’s leaders in home runs, would be just just another notch on the baseball belt. Needless to say, that lunch hour became lunch hours as there would be no way I could miss potential history. But even after Salazar was lifted after the sixth inning—the subject of what would be a frustrating, season-long pitch limit—we were hooked.

Fast forward to Tuesday night and the story has seen a few unfortunate chapters. That pinpoint accuracy (Salazar threw 72 percent of his pitches for strikes during his debut) has lessened, the ability to corral that high-90s fastball seemingly failing him at times. He’s fallen victim to the home run ball a bit more often than preferred and his walk rate has jumped considerably to nearly four walks per nine innings. All of these factors earned the 24-year-old, the one who started the team’s postseason game just nine months earlier, a trip to Columbus where he could attempt to harness The Legend in Triple-A. One of the season’s brightest prospects, Salazar came into a late-July contest against the Minnesota Twins looking for what would be just his second win of the season, his first start since May 15 when he pitched against, poetically, the Toronto Blue Jays.

What would follow would best be described as a mix of two Salazars as the Indians would eventually win with a final score of 8-2. In the first inning, the flame-throwing fan favorite came out swinging, fanning Twins third baseman Trevor Plouffe with a 96-mile-per-hour heater.

Salazar 140722

In the second inning, however, after embarrassing Josh Willingham with an 88-mile-per-hour slider, Salazar would walk the bases loaded, his fastball hitting the high-90s, but crashing into Yan Gomes’ glove well off of the plate. Free passes were given to Kurt Suzuki, Oswaldo Arcia and Eduardo Escobar, Salazar’s pitch count getting the Matt Underwood treatment just a few minutes into the evening. The kid would not be fazed, however, proceeding to strike out the next two batters—both on mid-80s off-speed stuff— fanning the side and promptly pulling of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide of innings.

“He told me to breathe and focus,” said Salazar of Gomes. “He told me to focus on the pitch I want to throw and not on the next one. He told me to go pitch by pitch.

“That was good. I wouldn’t go back and rest for a couple of seconds. That helps a lot. He wanted me to change my tempo because I was too quick.”

Salazar would settle in, mixing his mid-90s fastball (Trevor Plouffe and Brian Dozier watched a few of them go by) with sliders and that brutal change-up. He would fan a few more and even record a 1-2-3 fifth inning before being yanked, but that 31-pitch second inning would force Tribe skipper Terry Francona to go to the bullpen from the sixth inning on. The end result: Five innings, six strikeouts, three walks and one run—a mistake to Dozier—on six hits. After the second inning, all five Twin hits were singles. He consistently challenged hitters, was consistently in that 94-to-97-mile-pe-hour range with his fastball, and was not afraid to utilize his off-speed pitches. Francona referred to the outing a “shot in the arm” for a team that has little in the way of a safety net for their starting rotation over the course of the second half of the season.

Sure, ignoring Salazar’s second inning walks—but still considering the strikeouts—is the modern-day baseball equivalent of Butch Davis justifying Jamal Lewis’ 295-yard day against his defense. Former Browns head coaches aside, it’s easy to see how fans can still cling to Salazar’s potential. He’s young, he throws with ease and his ability to miss bats is among the best Tribe fans have seen in a very long time. These next few outings will be crucial for not only his second half, but the team’s as well—they can ill-afford to gamble if they plan to repeat last season’s magic.

Other notes:

• Carlos Sanatana and Nick Swisher combined to go 7-for-9. Sanatana was a base shy of the cycle, notching a double in the ninth inning having already amassed a double, single and home run. The home run was extra fun as the switch-hitter bunted his way aboard during his previous at-bat, beating the shift and drawing the ire of Twins starter Yohan Pino.

• The last Indians batter to have a game with at least four hits with at least one being a homer and one being a bunt hit was Kenny Lofton on September 3, 2000 against the Orioles. Lofton went 4-for-7 in that game that lasted 13 innings. (Elias)

• While we’re talking Santana and bunting, this is an issue that’s bound to arise more and more as the season wears on. Pitchers are apparently taking offense to players bunting their way aboard while the defense is in a left-handed shift. I get unwritten rules, but this one is absurd. In a close game, in the middle innings, if the defense wants to get crafty, the batter has every right to do the same. What’s next? Drawing the outfield in and then throwing a fit if the batter hits it over their heads? Come on.

 

  • http://www.wahoosonfirst.com Ed Carroll

    The bunt to beat the shift is the only acceptable time to bunt.

  • http://www.cinpleweb.com/ stin4u

    His pitches that weren’t fastballs looked better last night. That’s promising.

  • mgbode

    I hope it is promising and not fluky. He still seemed a bit out of control last night even while dazzling. But, the Twins are the 2nd most patient lineup in baseball (to the A`s) and he managed to get by, which is good.
    We sure could use him down the stretch.

  • mgbode

    Pitchers are apparently taking offense to players bunting their way aboard while the defense is in a left-handed shift.

    I agree that it’s absurd. There is no unwritten rule about it (unless it’s in a no-hitter). If you leave a spot on the diamond so wide open that a non-speed player can easily bunt to it and be safe, then that is on you.

    MLB is so defensive-shift focused that the hitters have to retaliate in any manner they see fit. Oh, and here’s an idea, if the pitcher has an issue with it, then go hard to that side to field any bunts after the pitch.

  • maxfnmloans

    are we starting to see the impact of a generation that grew up in an environment where everyone got trophies, and their mentors were more worried about “making things fair” than teaching kids about life? The Colby Lewis thing just blew my mind

  • Ezzie Goldish

    I don’t even understand the complaint: “Hey, we’re going to shift our guys because you often have trouble hitting it the other way… HEY! How dare you undermine our strategy by hitting it that way!”

  • mgbode

    If today wasn’t the happiest day of the year (1st Day of Brown’s Camp!!!), then I would go on a long rant here as it’s something I battle constantly in youth sports. Let’s go mini-rant here.

    I am an absolutely huge proponent of building a child’s confidence, team-building, sportsmanship, responsibility, and accomplishment in a sport setting. I do so with so much fun and positive encouragement that “my kids” see me as much as a cartoon character as a coach at times.

    However, we are losing the last 2 items from my initial list in many leagues. Every child needs to feel a responsibility to their team, position, and self. This responsibility will then lead them to feeling a real sense of accomplishment when they (or team) do well. So many parents want to protect them against the feeling of failure, but knowing how to compartmentalize failure is the only way to truly obtain a higher sense of accomplishment.

    Sports are supposed to be challenging and even frustrating at times so that you learn how to overcome and persevere through those times. Otherwise, it’s as if you leave Madden on the rookie setting and only play against the computer.

    Okay, mini-rant completed :)

  • mgbode

    I am largely against bunting, but anytime that bunting gives you a better chance at winning, it is a good strategy. That means it’s limited to where you believe you have a higher chance at getting on base (like against the shift) and where it is statistically better to advance the runners (close game, near end — still limited).

  • maxfnmloans

    Spot on. Losing is just as important as winning IMHO.

  • maxfnmloans

    hit it where they aint

  • Steve

    In situations where you need one run, and only one run, so pretty much very late in a one run game, it can be a viable strategy.

    If we assume that we’re back to operating in a pre-1993 environment. the chances of scoring at least one run go up from a guy on second, no out (62%) to a guy on third, one out (66%). Guys on 1st and 2nd no out (63%) goes up to guys on second and third, one out (68%), and drops to 67% if the next batter is walked to load the bases and put the double play back on the table.

    Going from guy on 1st, no out (43%) to guy on 2nd, one out (41%) actually decreases the chances of scoring a run. I don’t have the exact numbers, so I’m not 100% sure, but we are almost certainly at, or very near, the point in MLB history where singles are at an all time low. We shouldn’t be counting on them like we used to.

  • Steve

    There was some up and down on the off-speed stuff. Definitely had some very promising moments. Definitely left some pitches up too. I’d like to see him go against an offense a bit better than a Mauerless Twins team.

    Either way, I think a playoff run hinges on him (and Bauer too) putting it together. Run them out there and see if they both can hit that high upside. If they do, you have to like our chances. If they don’t? You were only a .500ish team by playing it safe anyway.

  • Steve

    This trophy argument is absurd to me. Giving a six year old who would never make the majors a participation trophy to help him enjoy playing tee ball isn’t going to mess up anyone’s adult psyche. As the game transitions from “lets make sure the kids have fun” to “lets teach them the fundamentals of good play” to “lets make these games actually competitive”, the participation trophies rapidly disappear.

  • cmm13

    Hell yeah he’s back… but wearing the wrong uniform. Hope him and Los like Florida.

  • mgbode

    are the Price rumors from the offseason about them asking for those guys back? I thought we laughed them off the first time around?

    note: Carlos Santana (on a long term deal) is more valueable than David Price on a short term deal.

  • mgbode

    First, it’s the structure and the mindset as much as the actual trophy (that is just the term utilized). Also, the participation trophies go all the way up from what I have seen. We actually had to fight to have the 1st place teams get better trophies than everyone else last year in our baseball league.

  • Steve

    I just don’t see how we can make that move even before looking at the financials. It locks in a 4-5 WAR pitcher for a year and half, but I don’t think that’s good enough. We need the potential 7-8 WAR that Santana and Salazar can provide to win 90+. I think the go-big-or-go-home strategy is riding Salazar/Bauer.

  • Steve

    Obviously I’m not familiar with your specific scenario, and it may be the case where the parents/league is too overprotective of feelings. I don’t see it in my specific scenario, so I may be overreacting a bit from the other side of the table.

    I completely understand seeing it in public leagues, where the idea is more of to get the kids of the town together to have fun playing ballgames, even at older ages. But I don’t see it in more highly competitive leagues.

  • Harv 21

    In other news, the Twins second baseman drew the ire of Carlos by stabbing his hot liner in short right field where he had positioned himself.

    Salazar reminds me a lot of early, struggling Randy Johnson. Looks this close to figuring out how to rein in the fastball just a tick so as to control it’s location. At which point there will be a cascade of 3-pitch punch outs and 1-hitters. May not happen this season but it’s gonna happen, and probably soon. Danny, the stuff is crazy electric without the huffing and puffing. Trust the stuff.

  • mgbode

    yeah, that’s the issue with these discussions is that it is largely league/micro dependent.

  • Steve

    Verducci is off his rocker (ok, that’s not too uncommon a statement) in his suggestion to create an “illegal defense”.

    Willie Keeler is rolling over in his grave at the moment.

  • mgbode

    Sadly, just like the stupid “Wheel” idea for the NBA draft, the idea is actually coming from people with votes on rule changes. Hopefully, enough people see how dumb it is and it gets killed.

    Who cares if it takes a few years to adjust to the defensive shift? In the end, it means that hitters are better. They have learned how to hit to all fields and take advantage of defensive positioning.

    Also: this idea of making a rule change instead of making adjustments can be categorized under the “participation trophy” discussion ;)

  • maxfnmloans

    great discussion by both you and Steve. Everyone’s experience is different, and that is exactly what makes these things so hard to have rational discussions about. All I know is both of my niece’s played softball in summer leagues where no one kept score. They HATED it. My one niece decided to quit playing ball (good news is it worked out for her, she’s on an academic scholarship now. She liked getting good grades because she felt it was a reward for her efforts)

  • Steve

    Max, I think the point you bring up raises a big problem – so few of the parents seem to actually know what the kids want. And the ones at the extremes, where either every precious flower deserves a reward just for showing up, or those who live vicariously through their child’s success shout the loudest.

  • mgbode

    furthering your point is that many/most of the parents who truly care enough to volunteer their time and effort to run a league tend to run near one of those extremes.

  • maxfnmloans

    sounds like my “Politics litmus scale” theory. I think that in reality, most people are closer to a “7” than they are to a 1 or 12, BUT the media pushes this “Democrat vs. Republican” “Tea Party vs. Liberal” stances, and that’s the perception of reality a lot of people have. Then, the parties themselves pander to these people while trying to carve out as much of the middle as they can for their side. I wish people would instead realize that a Democrat who is a “6” has more in common with a Republican who is an “8” than they do another Democrat who is a 1 or 2

  • maxfnmloans

    this is why my Father never wanted to help coach. he was asked a few times, and he made darn near every game (bless his soul) but he didn’t want to get tangled up in the politics

  • tsm

    Complaining about bunting to beat the shift is complete nonsense. When the third baseman is playing deep, for generations, players have bunted to beat that strategy. Pro sports are all abut adjustments. Think NFL and how many adjustments are made to deal with a particular offensive or defensive strategy. A team that uses a shift is simply deciding that the risk of leaving a portion of the field uncovered is worth the reward of placing players in positions where the batters are more likely to hit the ball.
    With regard to the other comments regarding youth baseball, I coached my 4 sons throughout their youth leagues. One of them went on to play 4 years of HS ball so I was dealing with balancing learning & fun with winning for many years. Ultimately, we all learn more lessons about life from our losses than our victories. The other big lesson that we learn is that the higher up the “food chain” you go, the worse you are in relation to your competition. My son who played HS went from being a dominant pitcher and hitter as a freshman, to being a scrub as a Senior. The weaker players drop out, and he was left completing with much more talented ones. It was difficult for him to deal with this emotionally, but now, almost 10 years later, he realizes it was an important part in growing up and gaining maturity. There are always others who will be able to surpass us, regardless of our areas of endeavor. How you deal with this is what is important.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Spoken like a true Cleveland sports fan!

    http://www.reactiongifs.com/r/welp.gif

  • maxfnmloans

    perhaps it is the Cleveland in me. Life is full of disappointment. The better quipped you are at dealing with it, the better off you will be

  • Lou Brown

    It’s why the crafty Jake Taylor called his shot in the one game playoff with the Yankees back in ’89. He got the 3rd baseman to back up to the outfield and laid down a bunt just good enough to get him to first base and Willie Mays Hayes around to score the winning run.

    I miss that team of misfits.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    You don’t equip anyone let alone yourself by accepting disappointment. Never give up, never give in, never surrender!

  • nobody

    Funny, Blyleven (the Twins announcer) loved the Santana bunt last night, as there were two outs and took the chance of a homer away (he crushed the ball for a double his first at bat). So, there’s definitely no unwritten rule (he’d know).

  • maxfnmloans

    who said anything about giving up? People who cant handle disappointment give up. That’s kinda the opposite of what I’m saying

  • The_Real_Shamrock
  • cmm13

    They are back.

    And I agree with you and Steve that the better end of that deal is riding Los on a long term deal and the Bauer/Salazar train.

    David Price isn’t going to single handily pitch us to a 10 game win streak.

    At this point we are exactly where we were this time last year. We dont need David Price, we need Los/Swish at the plate and Bauer/Salazar on the mound.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Dude he was out good thing there wasn’t replay!

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    note: Carlos Santana (on a long term deal) is more valueable than David Price on a short term deal.

    Depends on the team though.

  • mgbode

    Then, the parties themselves pander to these people while both doing pretty much the same thing the other side is doing. Uh oh, wrong site for this discussion ;)

  • mgbode

    Understandable. It’s why I only coach and don’t do the league stuff. I do my best to ward off the politics from the team but don’t want to wade in myself.

  • mgbode
  • maxfnmloans

    most likely. i think the whole system is in need of overhaul