Surging Salazar gives Tribe a lift
CLEVELAND -- After seeing their staff ace and closer roughed up the first two games of the Detroit series, you had to wonder if the Indians August momentum to get back into the postseason discussion was about to go to waste.
Leave it to Danny Salazar to put it back on track.
The right-hander got his first complete-game shutout as the Indians beat the Tigers 7-0 on Wednesday at Progressive Field. Salazar allowed eight hits but struck out nine as he threw 118 pitches with 83 being strikes.
Before last night, the most innings Salazar had thrown previously was 7 2/3.
"Boy, he sure answered the bell tonight," manager Terry Francona said. "He watched the way the game progressed last night and he saw how we used our bullpen. He really dialed it up."
In his last matchup against Justin Verlander, which was April 17 at Comerica Park, Salazar had allowed only one run through the first four innings before the wheels came off in the fifth as he allowed four runs, including a three-run homer by Ian Kinsler, and didn't make it out of the inning. It was a theme of the first seven weeks as he went 1-4 with a 5.53 ERA and was demoted to Columbus.
Since being recalled shortly after the All-Star Break, Salazar is 5-2 with a 2.30 ERA. After allowing eight home runs early in the year, he has allowed only two since being back up. He also has only 11 walks compared to 17 in his first eight starts.
"I think coming into camp he got a late start and when the season started, his arm strength wasn't where it is now," Francona said. "Now, he's having to use all three pitches, because he's facing hitters three or four times and he just wasn't quite ready to do that at the beginning of the year. Now, he's got some arm strength and he can execute his pitches and he can turn a lineup over."
Added catcher Yan Gomes: "Honestly he is pitching like he used to last year. He is going out and throwing as hard as he can. A game like today you are not going to see out of too many guys but this should be a confidence builder for him."
Wednesday's start continued to show how much progress Salazar has made. He had great control of his fastball and mostly kept it down. He was able to get eight ground-ball outs and four via fly balls.
What was also effective was the changeup, which he threw 11 times. Gomes said that at times it almost resembled a splitter-knuckleball because of the way it dropped.
"When you see his fastball coming in at 97-98 in the ninth inning still that is when he is locating and attacking like he did last year," Gomes said. "Then his changeup completely changes things. It is coming in at the mid-80s and has a filthy drop to it."
While the Tigers were 3 for 16 with runners in scoring position on Tuesday, they were 0 for 4 on Wednesday. The only time Salazar encountered traffic was in the fourth when Detroit had runners on second and third with one out, but he got J.D. Martinez looking and forced Alex Castellanos to ground out.
Martinez, whose three-run homer gave the Tigers the win on Tuesday, struck out in all four of his at-bats.
"I tried to stay calm there. I tried to focus on every pitch," Salazar said. "I was trying not to overthrow. I was trying to be smart and mix my fastball."
After scoring three or fewer runs in five of the last six completed games, the Indians offense was able to give Salazar some breathing room. Carlos Santana had a two-run homer in the first for the second-straight game, Jose Ramirez went 3 for 4 while Lonnie Chisenhall and Gomes each had two hits. The Indians were 4 for 8 with runners in scoring position.
By the time the ninth inning rolled around, the only suspense left was if Salazar would get a chance to throw a complete game. He gave up a one-out single to Steven Moya but then struck out Martinez and Castellanos to end the game.
"I knew it would happen at some point in my career," Salazar said. "Right now, this month, we need to win as many games as we can. These are really important ones. We're going to keep playing hard."
The win brought the Indians within four game of the second Wild Card but they continue to trail the Royals by 5 1/2 in the division.