In Danny Salazar’s last two starts he’s matched up against Justin Verlander and James Shields. In games that leave any starter a small margin of error, Salazar has failed to match either of the veteran, ace moundmen.
This evening it was Shields and the Royals showing the young, fireballer the progress that still remains in his development if he is to become an elite pitcher in the American League, someday. After three strong innings and a lead, Salazar was exploited by Kansas City the second time through the order, while Shields adjusted and got stronger as the game continued.
What resulted was a 8-2 Royals victory, but possibly more crucial, questions about Salazar’s place in the rotation and on the roster seem to at least be a discussion point moving forward.
The Indians jumped on top early for the third straight game. In the second inning Asdrubal Cabrera reached on Omar Infante’s fielding error and advanced to third base when David Murphy singled to right field. After Yan Gomes struck out, Lonnie Chisenhall was hit by Shields’ pitch to load the bases. That set the stage for Michael Bourn to rip a single through the right side and stake the Indians to a 1-0 lead. Bourn had two hits in the game. Nick Swisher left the bases loaded when he flied out loudly to center field to end the inning.
Cleveland has struggled in preventing the opposition from answering right back after the Tribe scores this season. In the top of the third inning, it appeared that could again be the case when Salazar walked Alcides Escobar to start the frame. However, Salazar was able to get Jarrod Dyson to fly to center field, Norichika Aoki to strike out and Infante to ground back to the pitcher to keep Kansas City quiet.
But Salazar and the Tribe could not hold the Royals down in the fourth inning. Eric Hosmer led off the inning with Kansas City’s first hit of the game with a single to center field. Billy Butler singled to left field to put a pair on with no one out. Salazar appeared to buckle down again, getting Alex Gordon to foul out and Salvador Perez to strike out. Just as it appeared Salazar and the Tribe would escape, Mike Moustakas crushed a three-run home run into the Kansas City bullpen putting them up 3-1.
Kansas City added another run with the help of the continuing struggling Tribe defense. Escobar singled after the home run and stole second base. He was able to advance to third when Gomes’ throw sailed into center field on the stolen base attempt. Gomes league-leading sixth error made it easy for Escobar to score on Dyson’s bunt single, giving the Royals a 4-1 lead after four innings. Cleveland now has 20 errors for the season in 20 games.
The Royals finished Salazar’s evening when Hosmer and Butler hit back-to-back doubles in the fifth inning to make it, 5-1. Salazar (0-3) survived just four and one-third innings, allowing five runs—four earned—on seven hits and two walks while striking out six. Much like Carlos Carrasco on Sunday, Salazar did not allow a hit in the first three innings, but the second time through the order was his downfall.
Cleveland tried to scratch back into the game against Shields in the sixth inning. Michael Brantley led off the inning with a single to center field. While Cabrera and Murphy each struck out, Brantley stole second base and was able to score on Gomes’ two-out double to left field to cut it to 5-2. The Indians stranded Gomes when Chisenhall struck out to end the inning. It ended Shields’ night, pitching six innings, allowing two runs—one earned—on six hits and one walk, while striking out nine. Shields (3-2) last six outs recorded were via the strikeout.
Kansas City answered back in the top of the seventh inning against the overused Indians bullpen. Infante singled and Hosmer hit his second double of the evening to put the Royals up 6-2. Salazar has failed to pitch six innings in a start yet this year, putting added pressure on the bullpen. Only on Opening Day did Salazar even pitch into the sixth inning.
Lee pitched two innings of relief, allowing one run, for the Indians, while Danny Duffy relieved Shields with two scoreless innings. Scott Atchison finished the eighth inning but struggled in the ninth, allowing a two-run double to Gordon that extended the lead to 8-2. Bryan Shaw was forced to come in and get the last two outs. Aaron Crow earned the final three outs for the Royals.
Kansas City banged out 13 hits in the game, keyed by Hosmer’s four-hit performance and Moustakas’ three-run home run. Cleveland had nine hits, with Bourn, Brantley and Gomes each tallying a pair.
The question now becomes what to do with Salazar, the electric starter expected to fill many of the innings lost from Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir. Salazar is still winless on the season and now has a 7.85 ERA. At Triple-A Columbus this evening, Trevor Bauer pitched six and two-third innings, allowing a run on six hits. Bauer has been exceptional at both the big league level and Triple-A, while Salazar and Carrasco have floundered.
Tonight’s attendance of 8,848 is the second smallest crowd in Progressive Field history. It’s only the second time in the ballpark’s history the attendance has been below 9,000 fans for a game.
Wednesday the Indians will send their own ace, Justin Masterson (0-0, 4.98) as he continues to look for his first win of the season. He’ll be opposed by left-hander Jason Vargas (2-0, 1.24) for the Royals. Game time is slated for 7:05 p.m. from Progressive Field.
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images