Countdown to Indians’ Opening Day – 31: Danny Salazar

As Did The Tribe Win Last Night helps fans count down the days until the Indians retake the field in an official Major League game, we look back at some of the greats who wore the Cleveland jersey with pride.

Countdown to Opening Day – 31 days

We are officially one month away from the Cleveland Indians and Boston Red Sox taking the field at Progressive Field.

One of the more exciting names to watch this season will be the continued development of Tribe starter Danny Salazar, whose fantastic season in 2015 was overshadowed by the dominating work of teammate Carlos Carrasco.

Salazar was expected to be in the starting rotation to begin last season, but a rough go in the spring (1-2, 8.18 ERA in four games; 1.73 WHIP) saw the starter start the season back in Columbus for a third straight season. His inability to be ready for the season put the Tribe’s starting rotation in a bind, as the club instead kept Zach McAllister and T.J. House in the rotation and both struggled.

As McAllister was shuffled to the bullpen and House battled himself and injury, Salazar got the call after one start for the Clippers, where he struck out seven and allowed just four hits in six scoreless innings.

When he returned, he showed he had no desire to head back to the state capital. He struck out ten in six innings in a win, then followed it with eleven more Ks in a win in Detroit. He sat down 28 batters in just three starts for the month, going a perfect 3-0.

In his second start in May, he matched his season-high of eleven strikeouts while allowing just one hit, a leadoff home run to Brian Dozier, in seven innings in a win over Minnesota.

After plenty of run support early, it tailed off as the season turned to summer. He went 2-2 in June, but the Indians scored just 15 runs in his five starts. That tally dropped to 12 runs in five July starts as he went 2-3 with an ERA of 2.65 and a WHIP of 0.88.

As the Indians improved in August, they rode the strong arm of Salazar, who was 3-1 in the month with a 2.53 ERA in five starts. His numbers inflated a bit, matching a season high with three losses while striking out a season-low 23 batters in his six starts. His walk total of eleven, ERA of 4.28, and WHIP of 1.37 were all the high-water marks for his season.

He ended the year tied for the team lead in wins with 14. In 30 starts, his 3.45 ERA was better than the much-lauded Carrasco, who had a 3.63 ERA in the same number of starts. Salazar appeared in a career-high 185 innings and also set a new personal best with 195 strikeouts, third on the team behind Corey Kluber and Carrasco and seventh-best in the American League. His 1.13 WHIP was eighth in the league, trailing his rotation mates on the list (Kluber’s 1.05 WHIP was third; Carrasco’s 1.07 was fourth).

A huge piece of Salazar’s success last season was his effectiveness of his “split-change”, a pitch he developed when unable to get a more traditional changeup to work for him. While he grips it in a circle-change manner, it has a different movement that seems to give him an edge from the way in which he throws it. He also used it effectively in his pitch sequence, throwing it when ahead in the count and significantly with two strikes to left-handers and right-handers alike.

“It was really just luck that he throws it this way,” shared pitching coach Mickey Callaway in a story on on February 26. “The way he pitches, it just turned it into something unique, and it comes out like kind of a forkball or split.”

In addition to the improved results from his split-change, Salazar cut back on his use of both the slider and his four-seamer and used the sinker more.

“My changeup has always been there,” Salazar shared in the same story, “but as a young player, when you throw hard, you just want to blow everybody away with your fastball. But you learn that if you keep doing that, you’re going to get damaged. So I just started mixing my pitches, using my secondary pitches more. My changeup, that’s my second-best pitch, so I just started to use it more. The more you use it, the more you learn how to execute that kind of pitch.”

Salazar made his spring debut on Thursday. He was shaky in the first, allowing three runs but striking out two. He struck out three in the second to complete his first outing, showing plenty of promise and an excellent ability to settle down after the first inning jitters.

Salazar, now 26 and heading into his fourth season with the Indians, will be looked at as a necessary and integral piece of any potential Indians success in the coming season. He will need to secure the third starter’s spot and continue to develop into a top tier pitcher, as some still hope and anticipate he will become just as strong of a force on the mound as Kluber and Carrasco have been in the last several seasons, if not even better.

Photo: Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

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