SEATTLE: It’s a luxury the Indians haven’t had in some time — a polished young pitcher waiting in the wings.
Oh, there have been plenty of young pitchers in the team’s minor-league system that the Indians have called up over the years, including several this season. But often, the need arose in a pinch, and the youngster hasn’t always been ready to take that next huge step.
This season, the Indians are thrilled to have right-hander Danny Salazar available at Triple-A Columbus when the club needs another strong arm down the stretch. And the kicker is that the 23-year old not only appears ready, but he is versatile enough to prove to be a valuable contributor as a starter or a reliever.
Salazar was outstanding in his major-league debut July 11, taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays. Although he ended up giving up a run on two hits in six innings, he left with his first big-league win and the distinction of striking out the most batters (seven) as a Tribe pitcher making his debut since Luis Tiant in 1964.
Indians manager Terry Francona sounds like he would prefer to continue to use Salazar as a starter when he does return. But only time will tell where the rookie, who was ranked by Baseball America as the Indians’ seventh-best prospect entering the season, will be most needed if the Indians manage to keep pace with the division-leading Detroit Tigers.
“Down the road there may be ways to fortify our bullpen internally, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be Danny Salazar,” Francona said. “There are some things to think about because once you get thrown into the bullpen, it’s easier to say that than do it. All of a sudden you get a blowout game or the guy’s not used to getting up and getting ready really quick and the guy’s coming off of Tommy John.
“So, there are things to think about besides the fact that he looks and fits the profile — I agree with all that. It seems like it’d be easy to bring him in the seventh and let him throw, he controls the running game, all those things. But there are other things to think about.”
That’s why the Tribe’s brass has been extremely careful in bringing back the prospect they signed as a nondrafted free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 2006. He had Tommy John surgery in 2010.
Last season, Salazar pitched a combined 87⅔ innings between high Class-A Carolina and Double-A Akron. This season, Salazar has already logged 89 innings between Double-A, Triple-A Columbus and his one start for Cleveland.
“[The limit on his innings this season] has not yet been determined,” Indians farm director Ross Atkins said. “We have hopefully managed it well enough on the front end to create some flexibility for us moving forward.”
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