By Sheldon Ocker
Beacon Journal sports writer
CHICAGO: It was the Chicago White Sox, so of course, the Indians won.
Friday’s 3-1 victory at U.S. Cellular Field gave the Tribe a 13-2 record against the Sox, who will have to step it up a notch or two if they want to ascend to hapless.
More interesting than the game was the pitching performance of Danny Salazar, who has the talent to become the Indians’ best pitcher since Cliff Lee and CC Sabathia.
Salazar is 23 and has made eight major-league starts, including Friday’s. He pitched only 3⅔ innings, but it was a pretty spectacular 3⅔ innings.
He didn’t get ’em all out, giving up four hits and three walks, but he struck out nine, which gave rise to the weird statistic of the day: According to Baseball-Reference.com, Salazar is the first Tribe pitcher since at least 1916 to strike out nine batters in fewer than four innings.
In his past two starts, Salazar has struck out 17 in 7⅔ innings. The problem is that he threw 158 pitches in those games.
The idea, of course, is for starting pitchers to throw at least six or seven innings, but right now Salazar is on a strict pitch count of 80 or less. It took him 78 pitches to retire 11 batters, but those 11 outs were impressive to watch.
“For the most part, he was really good,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I think sometimes he got a little over-amped when he got ahead of some guys. There’s a lot to like with him. There is going to come a time when he steps out there.”
Francona repeatedly has said that Salazar will have fewer restraints next year.
“We think we have a pretty good feel for what we want to do with him,” Francona said. “He doesn’t like it but he understands.”
Salazar isn’t complaining, not that it would do him any good if he did.
“The Indians have a plan for me,” he said. “They are taking care of me.”
Does he think about throwing 100 pitches and being left out there to pitch six or more innings?
“Sometimes I do, but I want to take the positive side of it,” he said.
Strikeouts are not what it’s about, according to Salazar, but there are worse things a pitcher can do than retire batters on strikes.
“I was attacking the hitters today,” he said. “If I get ground balls or fly balls, that’s fine. If they don’t hit the ball, that’s good, too.”
In addition to owning a fastball that rushes to the plate at 96-98 miles-per-hour, Salazar possesses a lethal change-up that dives out of the strike zone into right-handed batters. Friday, he threw few of those, nor did he deliver many sliders.
“Mostly, it was the fastball,” he said.
And the strikeouts?
“Fastballs,” Salazar confirmed. “I threw too many pitches.”
With Salazar leaving the game so early, Francona used his bullpen the way Civil War generals used their massed troops to overwhelm an enemy’s position.
On Friday, seven Tribe relievers took on the White Sox, matching up for an inning or for one batter until Joe Smith in the eighth and Chris Perez in the ninth closed the game. Perez put two runners on base with two out but earned his 24th save of the season.
How important is it for Francona to have 14 relievers?
“The last three days, I’ve been able to stay away from Bryan [Shaw], Cody [Allen], Smitty and C.P. [Perez],” he said. “I feel like we can go to them but not ask them to do too much.”
Michael Bourn saved Perez some grief, when he made a leaping catch of Jordan Danks’ drive to the center-field fence, leading off the ninth.
“It wouldn’t have gone over, but it would have hit the top of the fence,” Bourn said.
The Indians didn’t generate much offense, but on this day three runs were enough. Naturally, Ryan Raburn drove in a run with a double off right-hander Jacob Petricka. Raburn doesn’t see many right-handers. Then again, they don’t see much of him.
Raburn has annihilated the White Sox this year, compiling a .395 batting average with five doubles, four home runs and 17 RBI in only 38 at-bats.
“I think I do all right against them,” he said. “But there’s no rhyme or reason.”
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com.