Spring Training Questions About Salazar Have Now Been Answered and Changed

Entering the 2015 season, Danny Salazar was a bit of an enigma and something of a question mark. Such was the case that he opened the year in Triple-A Columbus. Now, there seems to be little question the 25-year-old right hander belongs in Cleveland as he has put forth a very good season to this point and has been absurdly good for a month and a half.

As spring training began this past February, Cleveland faced questions about who the real Danny Salazar was. Was he the guy who was so impressive in 10 late-season games in 2013 that he earned the starting nod in that years Wild Card Playoff game? Or, was he the guy who looked lost at the start of 2014 and was only so-so in last year’s final month? He was again very good last yer in late July and August. 

During Cactus League play, the answers to those questions were not favorable to the Tribe or its young starter. He was a disaster in spring training and an Opening Day starting job that seemed to be his for the taking was taken away from him. He was sent to the minors.

Quality work in Columbus, combined with injuries and ineffectiveness for Indians hurlers, saw Salazar get a chance to return on April 17. He pitched well and really has ever since. Salazar has had a few bad outings, but most of his starts have seen him give his team a chance to win. That is why he is tied for the team lead with 11 wins – against six losses – and carries a solid 3.15 ERA.

That season ERA has actually taken a fairly significant nosedive over Salazar’s last seven starts. On July 5, he gave up five earned runs against the Pittsburgh Pirates and saw he ERA balloon to a season high 4.10. Since then, Salazar has been brilliant, pitching more like the ace of the team than the No. 3 slot in the rotation he is currently in.

In those seven outings, Salazar has allowed just 8 runs in 49.2 innings, which is good for an astounding, 1.46 ERA. After four very good starts to close out July, Salazar has been at the very top in August. He has started three games so far this month, surrendering just one earned run in each appearance. Since that July 5 game, Salazar has had no start go less than six innings. He has been quality and then some since the middle of July.

It is important to see Salazar putting together a full campaign has he has this year. going into 2016, there should no longer be any question as to whether or not Salazar is Major League ready. He is proving to be very much so. He fits in quite nicely behind Cleveland’s top two starters in Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco. It can be argued he has actually put together a better season than either one of them.

Next up for an in-house contract extension? That may well be Salazar. Kluber and Carrasco were taken care of this past spring. The Indians do have control of Salazar through the 2020 season. He is not eligible for arbitration until after next season. However, the Indians have spent the last several offseasons identifying key core players and extending them through their arbitration years and into the start of their free agent seasons. Salazar would seem to fit the mold of those other guys.

With Trevor Bauer struggling down the stretch this season and the No. 5 spot in the rotation having been unsettled for all but a handful of games this season, it is key that Cleveland knows it has three starters that can truly be trusted after the season ends. Salazar is giving the team that, at the very least.

Salazar pitching as he has is also another indication of the young player having a strong psyche. His confidence could have been shaken after last year’s poor first month. Instead he came back strong. This year he took his start-of-the-season demotion in stride and returned to the Majors better than ever.

Salazar is doing this season what Carrasco did last year in returning from a demotion and now pitching as well as anyone in baseball. Remember, Carrasco did the same last year when he was demoted to the bullpen, returned to the rotation in August and spent the final two months as arguable the game’s best starting pitcher. It has not been quite the same for Salazar, though he, too, could turn this amazing stretch of games – should it continue another month – into Cleveland’s next extension for one of its own players.

The core of the Indians – the group that will hopefully get the Tribe over the hump and back into the postseason sometime in the next year or two – is being pinpointed. five months ago it was fair to question whether Salazar was or should be part of that group. Now the question may be where the ceiling is. Can he be even better than he has been this year?

The questions now facing Cleveland and its promising starting pitcher are a lot more fun to be asked now than the ones being asked in Arizona about a half a year ago.

Photo: Rich Gagnon/Getty Images

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