Salazar 'a lot closer' to last year's form, Francona says
Jul 22, 2014 at 10:48a ET
The Cleveland Indians have dropped back-to-back games for the first time this month, but manager Terry Francona is banking on a solid start from Danny Salazar to help make his club's funk short-lived.
Salazar makes his first appearance in the majors in more than two months as he faces the Minnesota Twins on the road Tuesday night.
The Indians (50-49) returned from the All-Star break by taking the first three games of their series with AL Central-leading Detroit, but their offense struggled in the finale of that series and no player had multiple hits in Monday's 4-3 loss to the Twins.
Potentially making matters worse, Asdrubal Cabrera left after the second inning with lower back spasms, and his status moving forward is unclear.
Cleveland will look to bounce back behind Salazar (1-4, 5.53 ERA), who hasn't pitched in the majors since allowing two runs in four innings of a 4-2 loss to Toronto on May 15. He was sent to Triple-A Columbus the next day.
The right-hander, who had a 3.12 ERA in 10 starts in a late-season stint with Cleveland in 2013, went 3-4 with a 4.02 ERA in 10 starts in the minors. Francona is confident Salazar is ready to rejoin the Indians' rotation, though.
"I know everybody looks at numbers," Francona told MLB's official website. "From all the scouts that have seen him, he's a lot closer to the Danny that got called up last year than the one we saw earlier in the year."
Two of Salazar's better starts this season came against the Twins. He allowed two runs in 5 2-3 innings April 4 and three runs with seven strikeouts in 6 1-3 innings May 7, but didn't earn a decision in either Cleveland victory.
Last-place Minnesota (45-53) ended a six-game home losing streak to the Indians with Monday's victory, as Josh Willingham broke the tie with a solo homer in the eighth.
"Coming off the All-Star break and losing three in a row, you obviously don't feel real good about yourself," said Willingham, who had one homer in his previous 18 games and has been the subject of trade rumors. "We needed a big win."
The Twins will send Yohan Pino (1-2, 4.39) to the mound for his sixth career start in this contest after he picked up his first major league victory by allowing one run in five innings of a 4-2 win over Seattle on July 10.
The right-hander was sent to the minors after his last start to stay fresh during the All-Star break. He was recalled despite allowing five runs and walking seven over five innings for Triple-A Rochester on Thursday.
"He told me he was just working on a few things, so we'll leave it at that," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He really competes hard and changes speeds. It's nice to have him back up here for another start. We'll throw that one out from the minor leagues."