Danny Salazar traveled on his 25th birthday from the Dominican Republic to Arizona hoping that his early arrival would give him an early advantage in the race for a rotation spot.
The Jan. 11 arrival did help Salazar build his arm strength, but continued problems with consistency with control are the major reasons why he won’t begin the season with the Indians.
After another tough outing on Thursday that left Salazar dejected, the Indians optioned the right-hander to Triple-A Columbus on Friday. In going 3 1/3 innings against the Reds he allowed seven runs (six earned) on six hits. He struck out six but allowed two home runs and hit two batters.
"Just on the body of work we think he’d be best suited to start in Triple-A and to whether you say earn or perform his way back into helping us win," manager Terry Francona said. "We all feel that he is going to be a big part of what we do at some point, just right now he’s not quite ready to do that.
"This is by no means an indictment on Danny. It is just what we think is best for him right now and our team."
After Salazar went 1-2 with an 8.18 ERA in four spring starts, the Indians weren’t prepared to repeat last year, when they gave him a rotation spot only to see him struggle before being sent down to Columbus in mid-May. In those eight starts he was 1-4 with a 5.53 ERA and made it to the sixth inning or beyond only twice. He also allowed eight home runs, which were tied for sixth in the American League.
It is another turn in what has been a wild two years for Salazar. He burst onto the scene midway through the 2013 season and ended up starting the AL Wild Card Game. After his rough start last season, he was recalled from Columbus in late July and went 5-4 with a 3.50 ERA.
"In ’13 we’ve said it multiple times he was in midseason form and he was on a 65-pitch limit," Francona said. "That covered a lot of things that Danny wasn’t ready for. He was facing hitters only one time (through the order) that I think that covered up a lot of things he didn’t know or was prepared for."
Inconsistency has been a word uttered often during the spring about Salazar. His release point and control has been off, especially with the fastball and changeup. When Salazar has tried to pitch inside, it has often come close to hitting a batter instead of jamming them. Francona also cited Salazar’s leg getting out in front too much at times which has affected his arm rhythm.
Said Salazar about his woes on Thursday: "Physically I feel good but with your release point when you start leaving the ball up then you have to go down to the middle and not walk anyone. Then they start hitting you and you’re going to feel like (not well)."
Many may see Salazar’s demotion as a step back. In some ways it is but the other reality is he has made only 30 starts in the majors and this was the first spring training he went into where there weren’t any concerns about his elbow.
One area where the Indians really want to see growth is in taking it up another step in work ethic. Francona cited Carlos Carrasco’s turnaround in his approach last season as a big reason for his improvement. They are hoping to see the same from Salazar.
"I think with all young players are learning to do the things that are necessary. He has not had a ton of repetition," Francona added. "As guys grow up and mature the guys that are good and get good they learn there is another gear to his work."
Salazar’s demotion leaves three in the mix for the final two spots in the rotation. TJ House and Zach McAllister would appear to be the favorites with Josh Tomlin likely headed to Columbus.
With the exception of two bad innings, House has pitched well and it would give the rotation a left-hander. McAllister, who has a spot regardless since he is out of options, has looked solid in his last two outings. With the top three spots set with Corey Kluber, Carrasco and Trevor Bauer, Francona is not about to rush his decision on who rounds out the rotation.
"We’ll make a decision when we have the information and make a decision to move forward on," Francona said. "We have some ideas on what we think we might do but have to let it play out."