Salazar Dazzling in Strong Start to 2016 Season

Ever since Danny Salazar‘s promotion to the Major Leagues in July of 2013, there has always seemed to be some sort of caveat. However, despite those who may doubt the 26-year-old flame-thrower, the Cleveland Indians’ talented starting pitcher has just continued to get better with each season.

It may just be time to quit worrying each time Salazar has a hiccup or two and enjoy the fact that a strong, hard-throwing pitcher takes the mound every five days for the Tribe.

Over the past three years, Salazar has certainly given Indians fans and management reasons for concern as to whether or not he would really put it all together at the big league level. Despite having ace-like stuff Salazar has had his down moments that have made some wonder if he could take the step from good middle-of-the-rotation starter to the point where he could be considered a number-one-starter type of pitcher.

In 2013, Salazar had an excellent ten-game regular season debut, going 2-3 with a 3.12 ERA. He was on such a role that Indians manager Terry Francona entrusted him with taking the hill against Tampa Bay in the one-game Wild Card game. He faltered, allowing three earned runs in four innings.

Some wondered if those initial ten starts were a mirage. In 2014, Salazar was up and down. He did not seem to have the same dominance as he did during his burst of success the prior year. He was 6-8 with a 4.25 ERA. It was a bit of a step back.

Still, Salazar went into spring training of 2015 with a spot in the rotation all but locked up. Things did not go well in Goodyear, Arizona, and he began last season in Columbus. His time in Triple-A was short lived, just one start, and Salazar went on to prove that spring stats can be meaningless. In 30 starts last year, Salazar was 14-10 with a 3.45 ERA. The step back that the 2014 campaign and following spring were had been erased. Last season, the right-hander did take that next step forward and entrenched himself in the Tribe starting five.

Even with the success of a year ago, doubters again started to pop up this spring. Salazar had a rough go of it in this Cactus League season. Despite a 3-1 record, he toted a bit of a worrisome 5.47 ERA in his seven spring starts. Winter conversations about whether or not the Indians should make Salazar the next in-house talent to receive a lucrative contract extension turned into March talks among local fans as to whether Salazar really was in the class of Cleveland’s top two starters, Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco.

While some fans panicked, the Tribe organization had no fears about its young, budding star. There was no thought of sending him back to the minors this year. There was not thought about vanquishing him to the bullpen as was the case with struggling starter Trevor Bauer.

Last year, Salazar proved how meaningless preseason stats can be and had such a good campaign that he earned the trust of Tribe management to be able to again follow up a tough Arizona time with better regular season stuff.

So far, Salazar has again erased the memories of any struggles he may have had with success he has had in the first two weeks of this new season.

Salazar has been lights out in his two starts of 2016. He has won them both and has given up just one run in eleven and one-third innings for a sterling 0.79 ERA. He has 16 strikeouts, for an eye-popping 12.7 Ks per nine frames. The only knock on Salazar though his outings against the White Sox and Tampa has been control issues. He has walked three per game and had a 4.8 walks per nine innings average. It is quite a bit higher than his career average of 2.7 base on balls per nine and he does need to bring that down. However, if his stuff is going to be as electric as it has been through two appearances, it is not worth fretting about as of yet.

Shutting out Tampa for six innings as Salazar did on Thursday does not seem as big a deal when considering the Rays are off to a slow start. He fanned nine batters in six innings, which is a very good feat against any collection of Major League hitters.

In his start before that, Salazar vexed a Chicago White Sox club that had not been stymied very often in the early going. Cleveland’s Central Division rival has gotten off to an 8-2 start, yet Salazar hung one of those defeats on the Windy City South Siders with five and one-third strong stanzas, surrendering just one run to what has been one of the American League’s better-hitting clubs to this point.

Obviously, it is too early to get overly excited or down about anything that has happened in this young baseball season. Cleveland’s year is only nine games old, just barely more than five percent of its games are played.

Despite that, you would certainly rather see a guy get off to a hot start than a slow one. Salazar has stormed out of the gates and again has quieted anyone who may have worried that his spring was the beginning of an unraveling pitcher. You will have to forgive Cleveland fans for that as they have seen many a great player tumble after a year or two of success.

However, Salazar continues to show that he may not be the tumbling type. He continues to get better and continues to improve. As he hits his mid-20s, Cleveland’s 2006 signing out of the Dominican Republic is now closing in on his prime. He has taken a route that many a successful Major Leaguer has taken. He started strong, stumbled a bit, and has surged back.

Salazar has taken more steps forward towards proving to the Wahoo faithful that they have three starters to feel really good about during turns through the rotation. No longer does there seem reason to worry if he has a bad start or even a bad spring training. Those things happen to everyone. The good ones pick themselves up and roar back the next chance they get. Salazar has done that yet again.

Rather than question whether or not Salazar can get to the level of being the ace that his 2013 numbers as a 23-year-old indicated he could be, it may just be time to enjoy the idea that Salazar is just about there right now. Hopefully he continues to dominate opposing hitters and Cleveland can soon lock up a third talented member of its rotation for years to come. The hard-throwing right-hander has proven that he should be around and successful for a while.

Photo: Chris O’Meara/Associated Press

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