When the 2013 season came down to one game for the Cleveland Indians, manager Terry Francona had no qualms about giving the ball in the Wild Card playoff game to rookie Danny Salazar. While the Indians lost to the Tampa Bay Rays, Salazar was still a big story for keeping the team in the game in the 4-0 loss, and the future looked bright for the 24 year old from the Dominican Republic. Salazar was given a starting job rather quickly in the spring, and the Indians were careful not to throw him too much so he could be prepared for the season.
The problem is, four starts into the 2014 campaign, Salazar looks nothing like the confident, and at times dominant young, rookie that was given the start last season in the biggest game of the year. Tuesday night, the Kansas City Royals roughed up Salazar, knocking him out after 4.1 innings in the Royals’ 8-2 win over the Tribe at Progressive Field. The loss puts Salazar at 0-3, and his ERA jumps to 7.85 this season. Against Kansas City, Salazar allowed five runs, four earned on seven hits. He walked two and struck out six.
The telling blow of the game came in the 5th, as Royals’ 3B Mike Moustakas took an 84 MPH Salazar change-up into the Kansas City bullpen for a three-run homer to give the Royals a 3-1 lead. The Indians’ starter threw two straight change-ups, and Moustakas was ready. “Maybe he was ready for that pitch,” Salazar said. “That was a mistake of me throwing it again, I should have thrown a fastball outside or something.”
Salazar never was able to recover, allowing another run that inning on two hits to make it a 4-1 game. He didn’t get out of the fifth, and was pulled in favor of reliever Josh Outman. The outing is the third straight tough one for Salazar, and in his last three games, he’s allowed 15 runs (14 earned) on 19 hits, with seven walks and 19 strikeouts in 12.2 innings, all losses.
For now, Francona maintains that the problems for Salazar are mostly in his head, not his arm. “I think his velocity is fine, I think part of what it is is him trying to navigate through or thinking about getting deeper into games,” Francona said. “Some of it is probably mentality, as opposed to his arm, which feels really good. Just maybe more of how to attack the game.” Salazar himself seemed frustrated after the outing, to the point where he even admitted that he might be tipping his pitches a bit. “Maybe I am doing something obvious, so they know what pitch I am going to throw,” Salazar said.
The Indians are nowhere close to giving up on Salazar, but these growing pains over his last three starts have been extremely tough to watch. He must now find a way out of the slump and back into the form that made him a threat for the Indians’ rotation late last season at the Major League level.