Many of you are probably asking yourselves “Who are Scott Lewis and Paul Rigdon?’ Both were starting pitchers who made great impressions during their major league debuts with the Indians. Rigdon, a right-hander who was later used as trade bait to pry Bob Wickman out of Milwaukee, threw seven shutout innings against the New York Yankees in his first Tribe appearance on May 21st, 2000. Scott Lewis, a lefty out of Ohio State, threw eight scoreless for the Tribe in his Major League Debut on September 10th, 2008 facing the Baltimore Orioles.
Both lasted just two years in the majors before flaming out. Neither of the two had the pedigree of Tribe prospect Danny Salazar, who has rapidly made his way through the system. Coming off of Tommy John surgery, we didn’t expect to see the 23-year old Dominican this fast. Then again nobody expected the Tribe’s fifth spot in the rotation to be this far in flux. With Trevor Bauer still working out the kinks of his revamped delivery, Salazar was the next man up. Since the surgery, he hadn’t thrown more than 89 pitches in a game and has been strictly a five inning guy in both Akron and Columbus this season.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment, like, seven years — since I signed,” said Salazar. “Once I got to the dugout and I [saw] all the guys there, I was just thinking, like, ‘I’ve been preparing myself for this.’ So I didn’t have to be nervous.”
Nobody knew what to expect from the kid, but man did he look the part. Right from the start, Salazar was impressive. He struck out four of the first six Blue Jays he faced, showing no signs of being overwhelmed by the moment. Mixing in a 97 MPH fastball that got up to 99 with a wicked breaking pitch, Salazar completely dominated the Blue Jays. If not for Lonnie Chisenhall losing a pop fly in the sun and then the subsequent walk to Rajai Davis, Danny would have been perfect through five innings.
Offensively, the Indians once again had their chances early to do real damage against R.A. Dickey. With two outs in the first, Asdrubal Cabrera homered down the right field line to put the Indians ahead. Michael Brantley followed with a single. Ryan Raburn, getting the start in right field, doubled to the corner in right. Brantley had to be held. Carlos Santana had the chance to drive in two, but flew out to center. In the second, two one-out infield hits by Lonnie Chisenhall (should have been ruled an error on first baseman Adam Lind) and Yan Gomes put the Tribe in business again. They would load the bases with two on, but Cabrera flew out to end the inning. All the Tribe had to show for their six base runners was one run. And again, like the night before, the bats went silent in the middle innings.
Salazar was close to his pitch threshold when he came out for the sixth and his no-hit bid was ended by Josh Thole’s leadoff single. Muninori Kawasaki sacrificed Thole to second. Jose Reyes lined out on a great catch by Mike Aviles for the second out. The dangerous Jose Bautista was next. Salazar got ahead in the count, only to see Bautista double in Thole to tie the game. He ended the sixth by getting Edwin Encarnacion on a check swing grounder to first.
Salazar left the field to a standing ovation, done for the day after six innings, one run, two hits, seven strikeouts, and one walk. Not too shabby for a Major League debut.
Said manager Terry Francona: “From the first pitch of the game, he had his poise. Obviously, he attacked the zone with above-average pitches across the board. When there were runners, he controlled the running game. His tempo was quick. Not fast, but he got the ball and threw strikes.”
The Tribe offense owed it to Salazar to get a run or two home in the bottom of the sixth to make him a winner. Dickey helped them out by hitting Brantley and walking Raburn to open the frame. After Santana struck out, Mark Reynolds walked to load bases. Up stepped Chisenhall who hit a flair just over the shortstop Reyes’s head scoring Brantley. Davis’s throw home from left went so wild that Raburn, running hard all the way, was able to score. The Indians now led 3-1 with runners on the corners with one out. Unfortunately, this was all the Tribe would get as Yan Gomes and Bourn struck out.
Needing nine outs from the tired pen and lefties coming up, Francona turned to Rich Hill. The southpaw has not exactly been a model of consistency this season, but in a key spot, he did his job, retiring the Jays in order in the seventh. Cody Allen was ready for the eighth and looked impressive yet again. He struck out three of the four batters he faced, setting the Tribe up for a chance at insurance.
Facing ageless lefty Darren Oliver, the Indians were gifted a fourth run. Raburn walked and was replaced by pinch runner Drew Stubbs. Santana then hit a line drive to Bautista in right. He came in, slipped, tried to recover and let the ball get past him, rolling all the way to the wall. Stubbs scored with ease and Santana was credited with an RBI triple. However, the Indians once again stranded a runner at third with three chances to get him home as Reynolds K’d, Chisenhall grounded out to Oliver, and Gomes grounded out to third.
Closer Chris Perez came on for a save chance of the easiest kind, nursing a three run lead. We thought maybe the embattled closer wouldn’t make us sweat for once, but alas, we were wrong. After retiring the first two men he face quickly, Lind doubled and was driven home on a Colby Rasmus single. Pinch hitter J.P. Arencibia, who came up big last night in a similar spot against Joe Smith, walked, bringing the winning run to the plate in Davis. The Jays left fielder roped a line drive to left field that to me looked like it was going off the wall for a game tying single. However, Brantley tracked it down for the final out.
Never a dull moment with CP and the Tribe bullpen, but we had ’em all the way, didn’t we!
The Indians took the series from Toronto and gained a game on the first place Tigers, who lost to the White Sox 6-3. They now sit two and a half games back. Up next for the Tribe is a weekend series with the Kansas City Royals. Corey Kluber (6-5, 4.23 ERA) looks to get the Tribe off to a good start. He will face lefty Bruce Chen (3-0, 2.41 ERA) who makes a spot start for KCphio.
(photo via Scott Shaw/PD)