CLEVELAND: It didn’t matter whether Danny Salazar picked Door No. 1, Door No. 2 or Door No. 3, his prize for beating the Toronto Blue Jays and pitching a no-hitter for five innings would be an all-expense paid trip to Columbus and a Triple-A job when he got there.
So it was welcome to the big leagues and see you later for the 23-year-old Salazar, who became an instant celebrity by triggering the Indians’ 4-2 win in his major-league debut Thursday afternoon at Progressive Field.
The plan was the plan. Salazar was told he would make one spot start for struggling Carlos Carrasco then head back to Triple-A. There was no room in the rotation for the kid, because Zach McAllister is expected to be activated from the disabled list after the All-Star break.
This is normal stuff for big-league baseball, not cruel and unusual punishment.
“We think this kid has a bright future,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “We wanted him to go out and win a game for us, which he really did.”
Salazar, who underwent elbow reconstruction surgery in 2010, retired 15 of the first 16 batters whom he faced, allowing only one hitter to reach base — Rajai Davis walked leading off the third inning.
Only two balls were hit to the outfield during this span, and Salazar struck out seven, including the side in the second.
There were no signs of anxiety on his face or in his body language, as he dispatched one hitter after another to the bench in disappointment.
“I watched him before the game for tell-tale signs,” Francona said. “From the first pitch of the game, he had his poise. He attacked the strike zone with above-average pitches.”
Salazar explained that there was no reason to get stressed out.
“I was nervous in the bullpen, but once I got to the dugout and saw all the guys, I was fine,” Salazar said. “I’ve been preparing myself for this [day], and I didn’t have to be nervous.”
Francona didn’t seem surprised.
“He should be confident,” Francona said. “I’d be confident too, if I threw like that.”
Josh Thole lined a single to left to lead off the sixth for the Blue Jays’ first hit and was sacrificed to second. Jose Reyes hit the ball hard, but directly to second baseman Jason Kipnis, and Jose Bautista doubled to left to score Thole for the only run given up by Salazar, who finished the inning.
“I threw five innings without giving up a hit,” Salazar said. “When they got the first hit, that’s just part of the game.”
By the end of the sixth inning, he had thrown 89 pitches, a relatively low number — an unusually high percentage, 71, for strikes — but Francona was not going to let him lose the game.
“He’s not stretched out enough to go much farther,” Francona said. “He obviously was not going to go nine. His future is too bright to mess around.”
Said Salazar: “It was the first time I got through six innings all season.”
And what if the no-hitter had remained intact?
“I might have sent [pitching coach] Mickey Callaway to go get him,” Francona said, smiling.
Salazar’s fastball registered as high as 99 on the scoreboard radar gun, but most were in the 94-95 range, which is more than quick enough.
Pitchers who undergo Tommy John surgery often throw harder when they come back than before the operation.
“He picked up velocity after the surgery,” said Ross Atkins, vice president of player development. “He threw 96-97 today and averaged two to three miles per hour harder than before. That’s not just because of the surgery; he’s also stronger from doing all the rehab.”
Santana has been in the Indians’ organization for seven years, since he was 16.
“I signed with the Indians on July 2,” Salazar said. Atkins said that of 25 teenagers who enter the club’s Dominican academy every year, maybe 10 are good enough to play in the Arizona Fall League, the lowest rung of the minors.
“And if one of those 25 makes the big leagues, that’s good,” Atkins said.
A trip back to Columbus was not Salazar’s only prize. He got a beer shower from the rest of the pitching staff, and he was given the baseball with which he struck out Reyes, who led off the game.
Salazar isn’t concerned that he’ll be stuck in Columbus for the long term.
“It’s their decision,” he said. “I did a good job. I know they will call on me in the future. I don’t have to worry about that.”
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.