The Cleveland Indians lost the rubber match against the Toronto Blue Jays tonight, 4-2. Blue Jays starter J.A. Happ shut down the Tribe, as they have had trouble all year hitting left-handed pitching. Danny Salazar had yet another strenuous start, only going four innings (but only giving up two earned runs) on 100 pitches. Salazar has struggled all year (5.53 ERA, .301 opp BA, eight HR allowed), and is still looking to get back to his 2013 form.
There are a few factors that Salazar can look at to explain his lack of success this year.
The first reason you can point to is that hitters are simply getting more familiar with the young right-hander. It was Salazar’s first year in the majors last year, so hitters had no information on him. Now that he has made a significant amount of starts, there is plenty of game tape that batters can study. This is absolutely not an end-all be-all reason for Salazar’s problem, but it is definitely playing a small part.
The most glaring problem is the location of his pitches. He doesn’t have poor control over his pitches, he really just needs to learn where to miss when he doesn’t hit his spots. Salazar has a major tendency to leave his fastball too high in the zone, allowing hitters to tee off on those mistakes. Salazar’s fastball just doesn’t have enough movement for him to consistently get away with missing high. It would be great to see the righty develop some sort of two-seam fastball to keep hitters off-balance.
There is a very similar problem with Salazar’s change-up as well. He tends to leave this pitch up in the zone when missing his target. A prime example of this happened tonight, when Edwin Encarnacion blasted an 86 mph change-up over the center field wall. Salazar left it up, and Encarnacion was able to keep his hands back enough to crush the off-speed pitch. If he were able to keep that pitch down in the zone, it would have a lot more sinking action and the hitter would be much less likely to make good contact.
There also really isn’t a significant velocity differential (usually only about 9-10 mph) between Salazar’s fastball and change-up, which presents a problem in itself. Hitters can sit fastball, and if a change-up is thrown, most would be able to do what Encarnacion did and keep their hands back instead of lunging forward for the off-speed pitch.
Salazar’s a pretty good young pitcher, but he still has much to learn. The best pitchers in the league can certainly locate their pitches, but a big part of their success is missing their spots out of the zone instead of right down the middle of the plate. Salazar needs to understand this, and hopefully quickly for the Indians’ sake.