Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 31
Bob Toth | On 26, Feb 2018
While the offseason has been historically slow and the winter has crawled along at an even slower pace, we at Did The Tribe Win Last Night look ahead to the warmer days of the 2018 season by remembering Tribe players past and present.
Countdown to Opening Day – 31 days
It’s a new year, but the same old questions remain about the Tribe’s number 31, Danny Salazar.Salazar is one of 51 different players in Tribe history to wear the number 31 and like many of them, has done so on the pitching slab in Cleveland. But his ability to get to the mound has been the biggest problem over the last several seasons.
Just days after pitchers and catchers reported to Spring Training for the start of official 2018 MLB action, it was announced that Salazar was dealing with right shoulder inflammation and that he was behind the other pitchers in camp, in terms of preparedness. The news was not particularly encouraging for the 28-year-old, seeking to start his sixth big league season with the Tribe.
Last year, Salazar made just 19 starts, the fewest that he had made since his debut season in 2013. He went 5-6 with a 4.28 ERA and a 1.34 WHIP and made four trips to the mound from the bullpen. Injuries sidelined him twice and he amassed just 103 innings for the year. He missed nearly seven weeks in June and July with right shoulder soreness and missed two more weeks in August and September with right elbow inflammation.
Salazar has shown promise in the last few years, but the health factor has been key. He struck out a career-best 12.7 batters per nine innings last season and accumulated 145 Ks on the year despite his low innings count, but his walk rate hovered around four per nine innings for the second straight season and his hit rate climbed slightly as well. He has struggled with going deep in games even when healthy, pitching into the seventh inning in just five starts and actually completing the frame only three times in 2017. He was an All-Star after a strong start to his 2016 campaign, but has struggled since the middle of that year to find himself on the mound.
Salazar, when he is ready to pitch, is expected to factor in the starting rotation mix for the Indians this season. Spots are available on the staff behind Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer, with Salazar, Mike Clevinger, Josh Tomlin, and Ryan Merritt vying for the final two spots. Salazar may have a leg up on some of the competition given his time in the rotation throughout his career, but given the unpredictable results that he has provided the club over the last few years, nothing is certain. The losers of the battle for the rotation could factor into the bullpen mix, where Salazar’s stuff may play better in small doses, given his high velocity stuff and his difficulties lasting more than two trips through the lineup with regularity.
When he appears in a regular season game for the first time this year, Salazar will become the longest tenured 31 during the Jacobs Field/Progressive Field era of Tribe history. Previously, Cliff Lee spent five years in the number from 2005 to 2009, winning a Cy Young award with the club in 2008 after years of up and down results on the mound for the Indians. Three other left-handers (Chuck Finley, Brian Anderson, and David Huff) have also worn the number to the mound for the Indians at their gem, as have right-handers Jeff D’Amico and Jamey Wright.
Only two position players have taken up the number at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario for the Tribe.
Dave Winfield was the first Indians player period to wear the number there, doing so during his final big league campaign in 1995. In his 22nd MLB season and at the age of 43, the 12-time All-Star was a shell of his former self, hitting .191 in 46 games with five doubles, two homers, and four RBI while serving as a part-time designated hitter prior to gaining entrance to Cooperstown on his first ballot.
Winfield started his career in 1973, when he was selected with the fourth overall pick in that draft out of the University of Minnesota. He debuted later that season for the San Diego Padres, beginning his long and successful career. He spent eight seasons with the Friars, making the National League All-Star team in each of his last four seasons with the club and winning a Gold Glove Award in his last two years there for his work in right field. He would later move on to New York with the Yankees, spending parts of nine seasons there while making eight straight American League All-Star teams, winning five Gold Gloves, and earning five Silver Slugger awards. He would also play for the California Angels (1990-91), Toronto Blue Jays (1992), and Minnesota Twins (1993-94) before joining the Tribe, winning a World Series with the Jays in 1992 at the age of 41.
Mark Little, who spent four years with five clubs at the MLB level, played his final eleven big league games with the Indians in 2004, hitting .200 with a pair of RBI as the other position-playing 31 in recent Tribe history.
Other notable 31s in Indians history: “Suitcase Bob” Seeds (the first to do so from 1931 to 1932), Eddie Robinson (1942), Satchel Paige (1948), Allie Clark (1948-51), Wally Westlake (1952-55), Gene Woodling (1955-56), Jim Busby (1956-57), Jim Perry (1959-75), Paul Dade (1977), Steve Olin (1990-92).
Photo: Jason O. Watson/Getty Images