Not Quite Time to Panic With Struggling Salazar
Craig Gifford | On 25, Apr 2014
A year ago, at this time, Danny Salazar was not on the radar of the average baseball fan. He started the 2013 season at Double-A Akron and was behind a whole host of pitching prospects for a promotion to Cleveland.
Then Salazar went on to have a magical ride of a campaign. He dominated in Akron and was just as tough at Triple-A Columbus. Between injuries and ineffectiveness for starters at the big league level, Santana opened up the eyes of the Tribe front office to be granted a chance with the Indians in July. At 23, he took the bull by the horns and showed amazing stuff in his first go-round in the Majors.
After posting a strong 3.12 ERA in 10 starts with the Indians, Salazar was given the ball in the most important game of Cleveland’s season. He was asked to take the mound in the one-game Wild Card affair against Tampa Bay. The Rays rocked the rookie for three runs four innings en route to ending the Tribe’s exciting season at 92 wins and a single postseason game.
Salazar has not been the same since. To say the start of the 2014 season has been disappointing would be kind. It has not been good, at all. That is especially true of Salazar’s last three starts.
The year got off to a promising start, when he surrendered two runs in 5 and 2/3 innings in his initial start against the Twins. He took a no decision. However, that was the last Salazar has seen the sixth inning. The 24-year-old has not been able to get out of the fifth inning in any of his previous three outings.
It has been a similar pattern in those recent games for Salazar. He has looked good early, though a team’s turn through the lineup. He starts to get lit up, however, when batters see him a second time.
For the season, Salazar’s numbers stand at 0-3 with a 7.85 ERA. The questions about what is happening to his ego have to start being asked. This is a young player who has never gone through adversity, breezing through the minor leagues.
At times, he looks good. Salazar has an eye-popping 11.3 strikeouts per nine innings. However, he is also his own worst enemy, with an average of 4.9 walks per nine. That is actually the biggest difference from last year, for Salazar. In 2013, with Cleveland, he walked only 2.3 batters per nine frames. The doubled average is likely the biggest culprit in his slow start. It is also a sign that Salazar is still learning how to pitch beyond his fastball.
Needing to continue to learn, may be an indication that the young starter could use some more seasoning at Triple-A. However, Tribe manager Terry Francona is taking the side of being patient with a hurler who could be a future ace. He feels more time is needed to evaluate Salazar as four games really is not yet enough.
“It’s a short sample size,” Francon said. “We can’t forget last year when he was pitching, he was on a pretty strict limit for health reasons. So now he’s starting to get stretched out a little bit. It’s been a while since he’s done that. He’s never don it at the Major League level, so sometimes you have to be patient.”
Francona would also like him to work more with pitching coach Mickey Callaway, who played a big part in helping Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir have great comeback seasons in 2013. Callaway has also been key in the progress of other young starters Zach McAllister and Corey Kluber.
As for age or any fears about Salazar developing a bruised psyche, Francona does not seem too worried.
“I don’t always want to put it on youth,” Francon said. “This is a kid we gave the ball to in the playoff game. But I do think, with health and experience, he’s going to learn how to do this better. I think right now he’s having a tough time and he’s getting tested a little bit.”
The tough start and test go back to how long the Tribe should let Salazar go. Getting to work with a Major League pitching coach and facing Major League hitting certainly does have its advantages. However, what it he goes out and struggles in his next start? What if Salazar is unable to get into the sixth inning or beyond in his next several? There probably is no sure plan in place.
One issue is that Salazar really has nothing left to prove in the minors. He has shown he can get guys out with ease in the bush leagues. There is little left to do there. A trip to the minors would not necessarily teach him a whole lot. The best it would do would be to rebuild his confidence. However, what’s to say he would not come back to Cleveland and get shelled again? Perhaps learning and taking his lumps in the big leagues is the best thing for Salazar in that case. He can learn more in Cleveland than in Columbus.
Another issue is, despite his struggles, Salazar has not been the Tribe’s worst start. That has been Carlos Carrasco who has a slightly better 7.31 ERA, but worse track record. Of the two, Carrasco is likely going to be the first to go.
Waiting in the wings is Trevor Bauer. After a rough first year in the Cleveland organization, Bauer is now pitching like the third-overall draft pick he was in 2011. He is 2-0 with a 0.96 ERA in three Triple-A starts and gave up one run in six innings in a spot start with the Tribe. He seems likely to replace someone, soon in Cleveland’s rotation. However, beyond him, there are no sure names to bring to the Indians. Again, allowing Salazar to learn the hard way may be the best thing to do.
Salazar certainly has a bright future ahead of him. Last year, it seemed like the future was very soon. Right now, the future almost seems very far in the distance. Either way, the Indians like the kid. They want to see more from him in the Majors before making any big decisions on shipping him back to Columbus.
Now is not the time to panic if you are Tribe management or a Tribe fan. Salazar does deserve more time as he does provide such a great deal of promise. However, the Indians are walking a fine line. While he is not there yet, if Salazar continues to have big-time struggles in Cleveland it could potentially make him shell-shocked. It has happened to other young players with worlds of potential. Because Salazar has had success before in the majors, he should not yet be mentally beaten. Though a change may need to be made in the next few weeks, especially if the Indians want to do more than play in one postseason game as they did a year ago.