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Salazar Ahead of Hitters at Every Level

Salazar Ahead of Hitters at Every Level

| On 15, Jul 2013

The Indians have been a very streaky team this season, with some players being able to have that one-month when they play their best baseball. While most know of Mark Reynolds and his home runs in May or Jason Kipnis and his amazing hitting month of June, Danny Salazar is having a month of July that is nothing short of spectacular. Between his two starts for Triple-A Columbus and his first ever major league start with the Indians, Salazar has pitched 16 innings, allowing only one run, five hits, and two walks while striking out 17 batters and earning a 0.56 ERA.

Salazar’s first start of the month took place on July 1, when the Columbus Clippers went on the road to take on the Durham Bulls. During this game, Salazar went five innings, allowing just two hits, no walks and no runs. Salazar used his defense to get outs, inducing several ground balls.  Salazar started the game by giving up a single on a 0-1 pitch but instead of getting rattled, he used two straight 1-2 counts to get ground balls for a fielder’s choice then a tailor made 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.

The next inning seemed to mirror the first, giving up a single to the leadoff man before using two 1-2 counts to induce a ground ball out then a slow chopper 6-4-3 double play. During the last nine batters he faced, Salazar was able to get ahead in the count on seven out of nine batters. Out of those nine outs, he was able to get four batters to fly out, three to ground out and just two to strike out.

This outing shows that Salazar is able to get into favorable counts, letting him throw the pitches he wants to throw and in locations you can’t when you are behind to batters. Inducing such high numbers of ground ball and fly outs shows that Salazar was doing a great job changing the location of his pitches, getting the batters to guess on where the balls were and make bad contact for easy outs. The key however, is that he was able to throw the ball to both sides of the plate while still being in control, as he did not issue a single walk.

The next outing for Salazar on July 6 was at home against the Louisville Bats. Salazar seemed to pitch with a totally different approach, aiming for strikeouts instead of balls in play, and was successful in that approach as well. Overall Salazar went five innings, allowing just one hit, one walk, no runs and struck out eight of the 15 batters he retired. The only hit Danny Salazar gave up in the game came to the first batter of the night, as he allowed a bunt down the third baseline that died perfectly on the grass. Salazar did not panic with the leadoff man aboard, as he was able to get the base runner out attempting to steal second, then registered back to back strike outs on two 1-2 counts.

The second inning saw Salazar fool the Bats badly on location, getting three straight fly balls outs to center field on just six pitches. The third inning saw Salazar getting ahead of all three batters, getting an easy chopper to the second basemen then a three pitch strike out swinging and a strike out looking on a perfectly placed fastball on the outside corner. The fourth and fifth innings held four more strike outs, on 1-2, 1-2, 2-2 and 0-2 counts. Like most pitchers,  the trend of Salazar getting ahead and staying ahead is absolutely key to his success. In this game, Salazar relied more on changing his speed then on changing his location, as he struck out five of the batters he faced on breaking balls. Salazar has the ability to use either approach, either focusing on the location of his pitches or focusing on his speed, to pitch well and control the game.

In honor of his great start to the month, the Indians gave Salazar the Indians’ Minor League Player of the Week award for the week of July 1-7. With a combined 2-0 record and just 3 hits and no runs over 10 innings, it is clear to see why he deserved the award. This was just the start of the good news however as he was told that he would be pitching his first major league start in a spot start on July 11 against the Toronto Blue Jays.

While it is often unknown how a pitcher will respond when called up for their first major league start, it seems very unlikely anyone thought Salazar would pitch as well as he did during his first start. Over six innings Salazar was able to allow only two hits, one walk and one runs as he struck out seven major league hitters.  Salazar started the game and controlled the Blue Jays lineup from the outset, getting Jose Reyes to strike out, a .320 hitter this season, for his first major league out. Five of the first six batters Salazar faced he was able to get ahead either 0-2 or 1-2, with the only other batter grounding out on a 0-1 count.

During just his second major league inning, Salazar was able to strike out the side with all three batters swinging and missing. Salazar gave up his first base runner in the third inning, a walk to Rajai Davis. Even though he gave up a walk it was still another great at bat as he induced an easy pop up in foul ground that Lonnie Chisenhall misplayed and let drop. Salazar did not panic, as he was able to get a strike out, infield fly then a groundball out to end the inning and keep the Blue Jays scoreless.

The fourth and fifth inning saw Salazar mix up his speed and location beautifully, getting two strikeouts using his changeup, two easy groundball outs to first base and two easy pop flies to retire six Blue Jays in a row and have a no-hitter going through five innings. During those five no-hit innings, Salazar was ahead in the count on 12 of the 16 batters he faced, with two of other foul batters getting out on the first and second pitches of their at bats.

While the sixth inning was the first inning Salazar allowed a hit and a run, it was far from a bad inning from him. With Josh Thole up as the leadoff man in the sixth inning, Salazar was able to get ahead 0-2 before throwing what looked like a perfect changeup right down the middle of the plate for strike three, but was called a ball before giving up a single two pitches later. Salazar was able to retire the next two batters, a bunt from Munernori Kawaski then getting a fly ball to second base on a 0-1 pitch.

Salazar had a great chance to get out of the inning without any runs scoring, getting ahead of Jose Bautista 0-2 before giving up his second hit of the game and driving in the only run of the game he allowed. While he could have caved and given up more hits and runs, Salazar got Edwin Encarnacion to swing way ahead on his changeup and ground out on the first pitch of the at bat for out number three. Salazar earned the win to cap off his fantastic start to July with a 3-0 record and 0.56 ERA in his three starts.

Overall, Salazar has shown what he is capable of over the month of July. He has an absolutely strong three pitches, with a dominant changeup. He seems to have a great control of his pitches, using his location to keep even some of the best hitters in the league guessing. When he is locked in he can induce ground balls when needed, get strikeouts or fly balls with what seems like a great understanding of the game and the type of team he is facing. The future is very bright for Salazar with his first MLB start and last two minor league starts making everyone in the Indians organization excited to see what the rest of July holds, let alone the rest of the season or his career.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images