This was not supposed to be an experiment for the Indians. Putting young right-hander Danny Salazar in the Opening Day rotation was supposed to be the arrival of a future ace, an arm capable of carrying Cleveland back to the postseason.
That all might prove true, but Salazar is clearly a work in progress.
On Tuesday night, Salazar’s early-season struggles continued in another abbreviated outing — this one coming against the rival Royals. The righty teased with three no-hit innings out of the gates, but then fell apart in the fourth and was gone in the fifth, sending the Indians on their way to an 8-2 loss at Progressive Field.
“I don’t always want to put it on youth,” Indians manager Terry Francona said, “because this is a kid we gave the ball to in the playoff game [last year]. But I do think, with health and experience, he’s going to learn how to do this better. I think right now he’s having a tough time and he’s getting tested a little bit.”
The kind of sequence experienced by Salazar on Tuesday has been somewhat of a common occurrence for him this month. Three starts might not be enough to declare it a trend, but the 24-year-old starter has seemingly hit a wall midway through his recent outings. After looking crisp for the first three frames against Kansas City, Salazar was hit hard by the visitors.
Salazar suffered a similar series of events Thursday in Detroit, where he gave up one run through four innings before then yielding a four-spot in the fifth. Over his past three starts, the righty has been hung with 15 runs (14 earned) on 19 hits in just 12 2/3 innings, in which he’s piled up 19 strikeouts against seven walks.
“It’s a short sample size,” Francona said. “We can’t forget last year when he was pitching, he was on a pretty strict limit for health reasons. So now he’s starting to get stretched out a little bit. It’s been a while since he’s done that. He’s never done it at the Major League level, so sometimes you have to be patient.”
Against the Royals, Salazar allowed five runs (four earned) on seven hits in 4 1/3 innings, marking the third straight start he has not been able to log at least five. He ended the evening with six strikeouts, two walks and 89 pitches (52 for strikes), sitting around 93-95 mph with his fastball.
“I’m out there competing the whole game. I guess some pitches didn’t work,” Salazar said. “I’ve been feeling great — strong. I’m aggressive out there compared to last time I pitched. Today, I just felt like every pitch, I was totally focused on throwing it and on being aggressive.”
Kansas City’s rally against Salazar was ignited by back-to-back singles from Eric Hosmer and Billy Butler to open the fourth. The pitcher appeared poised for an escape when — two batters later — he struck out Salvador Perez, who flailed badly and lost his grip on the bat, which helicoptered down the third-base line as the crowd roared.
Mike Moustakas quickly brought on a stunned silence by ripping a 1-1 changeup from Salazar down the right-field line for a three-run home run. The home run — the third on the season for the Royals third baseman — put the Tribe in a 3-1 hole.
After reviewing video, Salazar said he believes he might have been tipping his pitches, especially his changeup.
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