Baseball can undergo seismic shifts in a year’s time. The 2016 Danny Salazar was an All-Star for the Cleveland Indians coming off the strongest half season of work of his career. The 2017 Salazar spent the All-Star break making what was presumed to be his last rehab start for the Mahoning Valley Scrappers with the journey of the past year has been marked by a series of injuries and soreness which has plagued Salazar’s ability to be the dominant right-handed starter that he is capable of being.
In his post game interview on Tuesday night, Salazar admitted to spending 2017 with arm issues.
“After my first game this year, my very first game, I started experiencing some soreness in my shoulder,” said Salazar. “I’ve been throwing with that.”
Pitching through soreness certainly would explain why Salazar’s ERA had ballooned from his career average (5.40 ERA in 2017, 3.72 career ERA coming into season) alongside a parallel increase in his FIP (4.85 FIP in 2017, 3.85 career FIP coming into season). The Indians attempted to move him to the bullpen to limit his workloads, in hopes as he said to “listen to the pain.” According to Danny, however, the day on-day off nature of pitching in the bullpen taxed his arm worse.
“When they moved me to the ‘pen, I think throwing, one day off and throwing again, that was very different for me,” Salazar explain. “First time I’ve done that. So, the next day after that I had really bad soreness and a really sharp pinch. And, I think that was it. The toughest part for me was like OK they put me in the ‘pen now so they are going to use me a little less. You know I’m going to throw less pitches in the game and I’m going to rest my arm a little bit. but it didn’t work.”
— Danny Salazar
The start Tuesday at the single-A short season team allowed Salazar to pitch in a low stress environment, while also allowing for Indians fans to build some hope for a return to the form of last year when Salazar’s name on the schedule elicited great confidence: five innings pitched on 71 pitches, 46 strikes, seven strikeouts, two hits and no runs allowed with only one walk. It had been decided pregame that Salazar would go five innings or 75 pitches. Though his numbers haven’t exactly been the best throughout his rehabilitation starts, Salazar offered hope for fans concerned about him regaining his full potential.
“This is the best I’ve been feeling since I went to All-Star last year,” he said. “I’m happy the way I’m feeling right now.”
Salazar noted after the game that he was working on his delivery, staying calm during the game, and working on getting his pitches to game-ready speed. Salazar mixed and matched his repertoire, throwing mostly fastballs and working in a cut fastball/slider (Brooks Baseball has claims to both pitches, but Salazar himself called it a cutter) and his plus changeup. Location was an issue early on, as he seemed to miss some spots, but facing Single-A hitters allowed for him to work his way through those issues without feeling the burden of those mistakes. Salazar’s velocity was also back as he unofficially sat between 93 and 94 miles per hour and touched 95.
Three rehab starts is one more than usual for a starting pitcher coming back, but a combination of the All Star Break and the previous two rehab games not going so well brought the club deciding to the third and hopefully final start for Salazar. While the way back has had some snags, if the end result is more games like Tuesday night, Danny, the front office, and Terry Francona will all gladly accept the journey back.
Below is the audio of Danny Salazar discussing the struggles of this season with WFNY: