A few seasons ago, a young, flame-throwing pitcher emerged onto the scene amidst praise that he could possibly be one of the next big things for the Indians pitching staff. Danny Salazar certainly exceeded expectations during points of his first season – who can forget him striking out Miguel Cabrera three times during his second big league start in 2013? He had such acclaim that he earned the nod to start the 2013 Wild Card game.
Of course, as goes with most pitchers who start out so dominantly, there is a fall from grace. Salazar’s performance bounced around last season, as he struggled to start 2014, rebounded in the middle of the season, and ended again as a question mark for the Tribe.
Coming into 2015, it was essential that Salazar cement himself as the pitcher he truly could be. However, he again showed signs of struggle – so much so, in fact, that he was sent to AAA Columbus late in Spring Training to work on not only his performance, but his work ethic as well.
Manager Terry Francona is quoted on Cleveland.com as saying that demotion served as a wake-up call for Salazar. “Sometimes, as hard as it is, the right thing to do is to show somebody that there needs to be improvement,” Francona said.
And a wake-up call it was.
After a Spring Training in which he went 1-2 with an 8.18 ERA, pitching only 11 innings and allowing 13 runs (10 earned) and giving up five home runs, Salazar seemed to realize that he couldn’t coast through the season based on prior successes alone. He made one start in Columbus, in which he pitched six innings, struck out seven batters, and did not allow a single run. He was promoted to Cleveland by mid-April, and stayed with the big league team ever since.
Salazar’s promotion to Cleveland came on the heels of injuries and other starting struggles for the Tribe’s original early season starting rotation. However, Salazar’s call-up to the Majors this season was more than just using a AAA starter to fill a void; it was a chance for Salazar to demonstrate that he was ready to put in the work to be a solid, valuable Major League starter.
This season, Salazar pitched a total of 185 innings in 30 games. He struck out 195 batters, giving him more than 200 total strikeouts on the season between Columbus and Cleveland. He walked 53 batters for the Tribe and gave up 79 runs, ending the season with a 3.45 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and tied with Carlos Carrasco for a team-high 14 wins. Salazar had 10 losses to his name.
Salazar’s success is reminiscent of the turn-around Carrasco had last season. After struggling to start last season, Carrasco spent his time in the bullpen recharging for his return to the rotation, and came back with a vengeance. He has quickly become one of the Indians most valued starting pitchers. Salazar did the same thing after starting the season in AAA and has become an integral member of the starting five.
This season marked Salazar’s first full season in the big leagues, a feat which can do wonders for both Salazar’s confidence level and performance abilities. Showing that he can spend a full season in the big leagues and not have any major slip-ups is a key that the 25-year-old is Major League ready, as well as ready to put in the work that comes with being a big league starter.
Also quoted on Cleveland.com, Salazar said that starting the season in Columbus was the wake-up call he needed. He said it showed him that he was going to have to work as hard as possible to make it back to the big leagues.
He also said that his health played a huge role in his performance this season, as he had issues affecting him over the past few years at different points during the season. This year, said Salazar, he felt good all the way through.
As has been talked about all year, if the Indians have been known for having one weapon in their pockets, it’s their starting pitching. This season, Salazar demonstrated why he is a vital part of that rotation talk. At 25, he is still young and has time to continue to refine his performance at the big league stage. However, if this season is any indication, Salazar may not have much work to do.
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