Don’t look now, but it looks like Danny Salazar has finally arrived.
After 10 solid starts in 2013, where Salazar looked like a budding star at times, the Indians granted Salazar a place in the 2014 rotation. However, last season didn’t go the way the Indians organization expected for Salazar. Instead of asserting himself as a mainstay in the rotation, Salazar struggled with command and control. Big league teams had the initial scouting reports on Salazar and he could no longer just throw 100 m.p.h. fastballs by worthy hitters. Teams were waiting him out and capitalizing on mistakes.
And 2015 looked to be much of the same as it started. Salazar was gifted a place in the rotation this spring. It was his spot to lose and he lost it. After a poor spring training, clouded with mentions about Salazar’s work ethic and attention to detail, the once future leader of the staff was sent to Triple-A Columbus to start his season. Zach McAllister was out of options and assumed the place in the rotation that was destined for Salazar. Salazar headed to Columbus, using his last option, creating the potential that if he didn’t find his place in 2015, he would be the next out-of-options pitcher to force his way onto the roster instead of earning his role in 2016.
Right now, it appears Salazar has found his place.
Sunday the still just 25-year old fireballer carved up the Minnesota Twins, en route to an 8-2 win. Salazar allowed a leadoff home run to Brian Dozier on the fourth pitch of the game, then locked in and tossed seven scoreless innings. Dozier’s leadoff blast was the only hit he allowed, while not walking a batter and striking out 11. A five-run fourth inning and a pair more in the fifth was all the Indians needed to seal the victory. When Salazar walked off the mound after the seventh inning, having fired 102 pitches, the game was out of reach for the Twins and the Tribe had eluded an embarrassing three-game sweep to the preseason favorite to finish dead last in the American League Central Division.
And while the Indians are just a couple percentage points ahead of being the worst team in the American League and 8.5 games back of first place, if they wish to get back to .500 soon and into the playoff chase by summer, they need Salazar more than ever. Cy Young winner Corey Kluber hasn’t looked himself lately, Carlos Carrasco has been quite human and while Trevor Bauer has had his own amazing moments, he’s also had his disappointments. So far this season, most every aspect of the Indians roster has had inconsistencies leading to their dismal 11-19 start.
Cleveland needs a leader on the field and in the clubhouse. Salazar is quiet, reserved and young. He isn’t about to walk into the clubhouse and say, “I got this, boys,” but so far, his actions have done quite a lot of the necessary talking. His performance on Sunday is the potential the Indians have seen in him for several seasons. It’s the shot in the arm the struggling squad really needs, a strong pitcher that everyone looks at and believes they’ll win each time he takes the mound. For the Indians, right now, Salazar is that guy.
And he needs to be that guy. Not just because it’s time in his own personal development, but because the Indians starting pitcher cupboard is quite bare. T.J. House has been banged around, Gavin Floyd and Josh Tomlin are each injured and probably not coming back this season. Bruce Chen received the most recent chance in the rotation on Saturday and he was hit around early. If Salazar regresses, it will just be another sore spot in an ever-growing inconsistent rotation.
But for now, Salazar looks to be every bit the star they’ve been waiting to shine since August 2013.
The Indians need a star quickly before their season burns out.
Photo: Tony Dejak/AP Photo