Setbacks and Success Has Salazar Ready to Make Another Step
During Spring Training the DTTWLN staff will profile and examine the coaches and players that make up and are vying to be part of the 2013 Cleveland Indians—A Team With A New Direction. Today, we examine one of the young players on the 40-man roster that is a part of the Indians’ minor league system.
By Mike Brandyberry
Sometimes one step back can lead to two steps forward. For Indians minor leaguer Danny Salazar, he’s moved backward and forward enough to dance the salsa, but each setback has resulted in greater success.
Salazar had his best season as a professional in 2012, splitting time between High-A Carolina and Double-A Akron and rebounding from Tommy John surgery. The shoulder surgery caused Salazar to miss most of the 2010 and 2011 seasons. However, since Salazar has been cleared with a clean bill of health, he has actually picked up a couple miles per hour on his fastball. He attributes the added velocity to the work in his rehabilitation.
“That is a product of the rehab program and the work,” Salazar said. “If you start thinking about the surgery and the work to get back, it’s real tough. If you just get ahead and start working out, you are going to be stronger.”
Salazar’s fastball has increased from 90-91 mph before the surgery to 92-94 mph after the surgery. The increase in velocity has allowed him to challenge hitters more with his fastball on all parts of the plate.
“That’s been my best pitch since I’ve signed,” Salazar said. “I know I can mix it more inside and outside and I can challenge hitters more.”
Salazar was signed by the Indians as a non-drafted, free agent in 2006 from the Dominican Republic at just 16-years old. After seasons in the Dominican Summer League and the Gulf Coast League, Salazar progressed to Low-A Lake County in 2009, going 5-7, with a 4.44 ERA in 21 games and 20 starts. Both 2010 and 2011 were interrupted due to his shoulder reconstruction.
He was added to the Indians’ 40-man roster after the 2011 season because he was Rule 5 eligible, and with his injury, it would have been easy for an organization to select Salazar and hide him on their Major League roster on the disabled list.
While 2012 was the season Salazar regained his health and place in the Indians’ organization, it too came with setback. Beginning the year at High-A Carolina, Salazar’s ball was flat and not showing the velocity he had previously demonstrated during his rehabilitation. He was shut down for a month before rejoining the Mudcats with a clean bill of health. While disappointed, Salazar never feared that he had reinjured previous injuries.
“It wasn’t scary because the doctor said it was my nerve, not my shoulder,” Salazar said. “I was told I would be back soon, so I rested and was back.”
When Salazar returned to Carolina, rested and ready to pitch, the Indians chose to continue to proceed with caution. He was on a very tigh,t 75-pitch, pitch count. While Salazar pitched well, he often had little in the way of a decision to show for it because he could not survive through five innings to record a decision on the tight pitch restraints. In 16 starts at Carolina in 2012, Salazar was 1-2, with a 2.68 ERA in only 56.2 innings.
With the reigns loosened a little, Salazar was promoted to Double-A Akron to make his final six starts and pitch in the Eastern League playoffs. At Akron, he was 4-0, with a 1.85 ERA in 34.0 innings pitched with the Aeros. The experience of pitching in the Eastern League playoffs and helping lead the Aeros to the championship is something Salazar feels helped him develop in a pressure situation.
“It was a very good experience,” Salazar said. “It was my first time in a playoff situation. In my first game in the playoffs, I felt a little pressure. But, the manager talked to me and I saw his confidence in me. Then, I was able to go out and pitch like normal.”
Salazar allowed two runs in five and one-third innings on Sept. 7 against Bowie. He earned a no-decision, but the Aeros eventually won, earning their first win of the Eastern League playoffs and avoiding elimination. After coming from behind in the Western Division series to win, Salazar pitched six innings, allowing four runs and striking out a season high nine hitters against Trenton in the Championship Series on Sept. 12. The win gave the Aeros a 2-0 series lead and they would eventually take the Eastern League crown in four games.
While it appears Salazar is healthy and back on track with his progression inside the Tribe’s minor league system, he is not a likely consideration for the Indians’ starting rotation. Despite his premature place on the 40-man roster and the unrest in the Tribe’s starting rotation, Salazar will probably start the year at Akron with the possibility of being promoted to Triple-A Columbus during the season. He’s made one appearance this spring, pitching one scoreless inning on Sunday against the Milwaukee Brewers.
With a solid season of development and health, the 23-year old could see a Major League opportunity with the Indians late in 2013, or be a potential option for the 2014 rotation. Regardless, Salazar feels his progress is a simple solution.
“I need to remain consistent, continue the same routine that worked for me last year,” Salazar said.
Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer