Fourteen final thoughts for how many career major league starts Danny Salazar may have to his credit when he heads back to the minors.
1. Right-hander Salazar, 24, was a great story last season, when he rose from Double-A Akron to pitch the American League Wild Card Game for the Indians. But I’ll be surprised if he’s not working things out at Triple-A Columbus by the end of the month. It could be by the end of next week.
2. In 2013, Salazar had the mental toughness to get himself back on track when the situation got dicey. He seemed to relish the big moment and was unfazed by the pressure. Even before his outing Thursday, he said he looked forward to facing the Tigers star-studded lineup. But for the last two games, against the White Sox and Tigers, Salazar balked when trouble hit.
3. Salazar couldn’t find the strike zone in the fifth inning after walking the Tigers’ first two batters, the Nos. 7 and 8 hitters Alex Avila and Alex Gonzalez. With one out, he left a fastball up and Ian Kinsler crushed it for a three-run home run to left. Then, given the chance to compose himself, Salazar allowed the Tigers to load the bases and add another run on Austin Jackson’s sacrifice fly.
4. “After the first walk I knew I was leaving the ball up,” Salazar said. “Instead of standing back and breathing and talking to myself to calm down, I was thinking about ‘Maybe I’m pulling a little bit, maybe my arm is behind.’”
5. Salazar left Detroit suggesting he needed to watch video of himself from a year ago. He said he even needed to study his bullpen sessions to see if he’s unknowingly changed something. That sounds like a crisis of confidence better dealt with at Triple-A Columbus.
6. Trevor Bauer looks ready to take his place. In 12 innings of two games, he’s struck out 18 and walked only three. His ERA is 0.75. While Josh Tomlin, who lost the fifth starter job to Carlos Carrasco, is having an uncharacteristic issue with walks at Triple-A with seven in 12 innings, Bauer has been solid.
7. Indians manager Terry Francona didn’t want to use the word discouraging in reference to Salazar Thursday. “We all see what Danny can do and we believe he will do it,” Francona said. “With youth, sometimes it doesn’t happen as fast as you want it. You want it to happen right now. He’ll be all right.”
8. But all right might not be this month, or this year for that matter.
9. There are other things for Francona to worry about besides Salazar. The Indians came into Thursday next to last in the league in fielding. With two errors Thursday and two Wednesday, they are now tied with the Texas Rangers for the most in AL with 15. Catcher Yan Gomes leads the team with four.
10. “I’d love for us to play clean baseball,” Francona said. “Gomer tried to rush a throw (on a steal of second). C.C. (Lee) whipped it over to first (on a pickoff throw). Obviously the cleaner you play the better.”
11. In the two-game series against the Tigers, the first four hitters in the order went 1 for 30, with the only hit a single by Michael Bourn off Justin Verlander. Carlos Santana is 1 for 27 in his last seven games, Nick Swisher 3 for 23 on the road trip to Chicago and Detroit. Francona doesn’t believe in trends this early in the season, but the top of the order is in a serious funk.
12. Jason Kipnis joked about his first career ejection, tossed by home plate umpire Lance Barrett after striking out with the bases loaded to end the third inning. It didn’t help matters that he’s now 3 for 26 (.115) in his career against Verlander. Kipnis didn’t like the expanded strike zone Barrett was giving the 2011 AL Cy Young winner.
13. “A celebration tonight back in Cleveland, you’re all invited,” Kipnis joked. “It’s always good to get the first one out of the way. It’s going to happen. Sometimes some good can come from it, you learn from it. At the same time it’s not a good feeling being in the locker room watching the rest of the game and not being able to help the team out.”
14. I was surprised when I asked Kipnis how hard it was to contain himself when he got back to the clubhouse he admitted he didn’t. Although nothing noticeable was missing, there were several dirty clothes bins and garbage cans that could have gotten tossed around.