Nineteen final thoughts after a night to remember for Indians right-hander Danny Salazar at Progressive Field.
1. Indians catcher Yan Gomes could tell the effect Salazar’s changeup was having on the Tigers’ hitters when two-time defending American League MVP Miguel Cabrera struck out in the sixth inning. “He was like, ‘Holy crap, what was that?’” Gomes said of Cabrera.
2. What Cabrera saw what Salazar’s off-speed pitch becomes when his fastball is sizzling. It was Wednesday, even into the ninth inning, when he was still hitting 97 and 98 on the radar gun.
3. “When he’s locating his fastball and attacking like he usually was last year, even a couple times this year, his changeup completely changes,” Gomes said. “I don’t even think it’s a changeup. It’s a split-knuckleball thing. It’s tough to catch it; it’s coming in in the mid-80s with a filthy drop to it.”
4. Salazar threw the first complete game shutout of his career and the Indians’ first against the Tigers since Jaret Wright on June 1, 1998. Salazar struck out nine and walked none. He’d never gone longer than 72/3 innings in parts of two seasons with the Indians.
5. Another indicator of how effective Salazar was what he did to the Tigers’ J.D. Martinez. The hero Tuesday night, when he hit a three-run homer in the ninth off closer Cody Allen, Martinez struck out four times, three swinging. He came into the night batting. 464 this season at Progressive Field.
6. “He worked ahead,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of Salazar vs. J.D. Martinez. “J.D. is a really free swinger. But we’ve found out when you get behind him or leave a fastball over the middle what he can do with it. Danny got ahead, used his breaking ball, elevated his fastball and really pitched him tough.”
7. As for what Salazar did all night, Gomes said, “He was mixing it up pretty well. We made it a point that we needed to come in a couple times to some of those guys. He wasn’t wasting pitches down there. He was coming in with authority and making those pitches count. He was riding his fastball above the zone a little bit and those guys were chasing it. That causes them to chase the other pitch, too.”
8. Gomes said he didn’t think Francona would let Salazar finish the game. He figured Salazar would go 81/3. Salazar threw 118 pitches, 83 for strikes. Francona said Nick Castellanos was going to be Salazar’s last batter in the ninth, whether he got him out or not. The fans were on their feet, cheering. Castellanos struck out swinging to end the game.
9. “I know, you get adrenalin,” Salazar said. “Sometimes you need to control that. You have to be smart. I tried to stay calm. I tried to focus on every pitch and keep what I was doing in the beginning, not try to overthrow. Mix my fastball.”
10. As for what he was feeling against Castellanos, Salazar said, “I was like, ‘Come on, strike out, hit a ground ball or something.’ I wanted to get that out so bad.”
11. Asked why his velocity was still at its peak in the ninth, he said, “I felt like I was using my body a little more than in the beginning of the game.”
12. Francona said, “It was good for him that he could prove to himself he could stay out there. He held his velocity the entire game.”
13. Salazar started the Indians’ wild card playoff game last year against the Tampa Bay Rays. But he got a late start in spring training and it almost seemed as if the Indians were babying him early in the season. After going 1-4 with a 5.53 ERA in eight starts in April and May, he was optioned to Triple-A Columbus on May 16.
14. “When the season started his arm strength wasn’t where it is now,” Francona said. “He wasn’t turning lineups over. Now he’s having to use all three pitches because he’s facing hitters three or four times. He wasn’t quite ready to do that at the beginning of the year.”
15. Since he returned on July 22, Salazar has been the pitcher the Indians thought they had. In the second half, he is 5-2 with a 2.29 ERA in 47 innings. He’s struck out 45 and walked 11.
16. In the big picture, the Indians rotation has allowed three or fewer runs in six of the last seven games. The only blip on that came from right-hander Corey Kluber on Monday. Right-hander Carlos Carrasco saw an excellent effort (one run, 10 hits, 10 strikeouts in 51/3 innings) wasted on Tuesday. Performances like Carrasco and Salazar turned in give the Indians hope for the playoffs.
17. Salazar’s complete game shutout was the third by an Indian this season, joining Kluber (July 30 vs. Seattle) and Josh Tomlin (June 28 at Seattle). That’s the most by the Indians since 2007, when Paul Byrd, Roberto Hernandez and CC Sabathia accomplished the feat.
18. Gomes knows how big the starting pitching and bullpen were in August. Gomes hopes Wednesday’s game, when the Indians produced six earned runs on nine hits off 2011 AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, will get the hitters going. “These guys have been stepping it up,” Gomes said of the pitching. “It’s the hitters’ turn to step it up for them. A game like today could be a big factor in this.
19. “Those close games, they’ll get to you. Hopefully we’ll get the momentum with a game like this, especially against a good pitcher like Verlander.”