Youth, inexperience taking a toll on Indians rotation — and their chances of winning

Through four starts, Salazar is 0-3 with a 7.85 ERA.

David Richard/David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

CLEVELAND — As much as Terry Francona and the Indians coaching staff would like to have patience with Danny Salazar, there is only so much one can take and Tuesday night might have been a tipping point.

At 24, the right-hander has shown potential during some of his 14 major-league starts to be a future number-one starter. But he just hasn’t shown it yet this season. Salazar allowed five runs (four earned) in 4 1/3 innings as the Royals defeated the Indians 8-2 before only 8,848 at Progressive Field.

Through four starts, Salazar is 0-3 with a 7.85 ERA. Of players who have made four or more starts in the American League this season that is the highest for a starter who is not on the disabled list.

"I am feeling great and strong," Salazar said. "Compared to last time I felt like every pitch I was totally focused and being aggressive."

This game did have some resemblance to last Thursday’s start in Detroit. In both instances, the right-hander was strong the first time through the lineup before the struggles started.

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In his first time through the lineup on Tuesday, he held the Royals without a hit but issued a pair of walks. Of the remaining 13 batters Salazar faced, seven got hits. The big hit in a four-run fourth came from Mike Moustakas, who sent a 1-1 changeup into the seats in right field for a three-run homer.

Salazar admitted the pitch to Moustakas was a mistake and that he should have gone with a fastball instead of another changeup.

"Maybe I’m doing something obvious too so they know what pitch I am going to throw," he said. "With my changeup sometimes I hold up my glove too much, that’s the only thing I notice. When I throw my fastball I open up my glove too."

In his first two starts, opposing hitters were batting .333 (6 for 18) and scored four runs the first time Salazar went through the order. Even in the game where he struck out 10 in 3 2/3 innings on April 10 at Chicago, he gave up a pair of home runs on first at-bats.

In the last two starts, opposing hitters are 1 for 16 (.063) with a pair of walks and haven’t scored. In all four starts though hitters are batting .442 (16 for 37) off Salazar in second and third at-bats. Hitters are adjusting, but Salazar isn’t.

"Every pitcher has to make adjustments as you go through the order," Francona said. "Danny has the weapons to go through a lineup multiple times. It’s more executing pitches.

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"I don’t always want to put it on youth, 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."

Tuesday’s loss dropped the Indians to 9-11 with the only saving grace being that the rest of the AL Central remains bunched up. Despite being in last, they trail Detroit by only 2½ games.

Francona also said that he wouldn’t make a change based on one start but he might also say that four is too low of a sample size. Carlos Carrasco did show some improvement in last Sunday’s start against Toronto, but he still allowed four runs in 5 2/3 innings and has gone 16 straight starts without a win.

The Indians’ starting rotation is 4-8 and has the second-highest ERA in the American League at 5.12. Three of the wins are by Zach McAllister, who is the only starter with an ERA under 4.00. The other four starters have ERA’s of 4.98 or higher.

The questions about Salazar and Carrasco are also sure to increase especially considering how Trevor Bauer is doing. Bauer improved to 2-0 with a 0.96 ERA after he allowed only one run in 6 2/3 innings of Columbus’ 11-1 win over Gwinnet on Tuesday.

When discussing the patience level with Carrasco on Monday, Francona’s words could also apply to Salazar — "The easiest thing to do would be to give up. … Thankfully (pitching coach) Mickey (Callaway) is relentless in trying to help guys get better. It’s a work in progress and you want it to be perfect now but it doesn’t work that way."