GOODYEAR, Ariz.: For a moment it looked like Terry Francona’s shout from the dugout would be one the Indians manager would regret.
All of the Tribe’s top personnel men had gathered at Field 6 at the Indians’ training complex Friday morning to watch right-handed phenom Danny Salazar throw for the first time in spring training.
General Manager Chris Antonetti was there, along with assistant GM Mike Chernoff and vice president of player development Ross Atkins. Two men held radar guns. A small video camera was attached to the fence. Scouts, media and a few fans also gathered in the warm sun.
Adding to the drama was the fact that Salazar didn’t start the ‘B’ game of minor-leaguers, but followed closer John Axford to the mound.
Salazar is expected to be the Tribe’s next star. He started the Indians’ wild-card playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Rays in 2013. He made 10 appearances in the big leagues last season as he rose from Double-A Akron to Triple-A Columbus to Cleveland and compiled a 2-3 record with a 3.12 ERA and 65 strikeouts in 52 innings for the Tribe.
But he toiled all of last year on a pitch count, the Indians being overly conservative after Salazar underwent right elbow reconstruction in August 2010.
That patience continued this spring, with Salazar throwing only in bullpen sessions and live batting practice. Francona said Thursday that Salazar might be a candidate for the fifth starter spot because two off days in early April would further delay when he’d be needed.
All of that had to be rolling through Antonetti’s mind as he saw only one of five batters to face Salazar reach base, that coming on an error at shortstop.
Then Francona yelled from the dugout, “Got enough for one more?”
One more nearly proved to be disastrous.
Willy Castro, a 16-year-old shortstop from the Dominican Republic signed for $850,000 in August, lined a single up the middle that nearly hit Salazar in the foot.
Francona insisted later his heart did not leap into his throat.
“He’ll get out of the way,” Francona said.
Antonetti didn’t share his manager’s calmness.
“It was good to see him get through it healthy,” Antonetti said later.
Asked his reaction when Salazar was nearly hit, “That’s why I said I was glad he got through it healthy. That ball could have been off his elbow or his knee.”
Salazar threw 21 pitches in 1⅔ innings, struck out three and retired another on a groundout to short. He tossed one wild pitch. Tribe pitching coach Mickey Callaway said Salazar topped out at 95 or 96 mph on the radar gun and averaged about 93 mph.
“That’s pretty good for the first time out … in a ‘B’ game,” Callaway said, chuckling.
Callaway used Axford’s appearance as an opportunity for a joke.
“I thought it was good. Very encouraging,” Callaway said. “Are we talking about both or just Salazar? He was really good. That’s what we wanted. We wanted him to ease into what he’s got going on right now. He should be ready for two innings in a real game now.”
That is scheduled to come on Tuesday against the Arizona Diamondbacks in Salt River, where Justin Masterson is slated to start and go four innings, followed by Salazar.
Callaway said Salazar’s slider and change-up “are there.”
“Fastball command is the main concern this early in spring,” Callaway said. “Once he gets out there a little more extended we’ll see exactly where he is with that. That’s where we want him to be right now.”
Francona also was impressed.
“I thought Danny looked really good. He’s free and easy,” Francona said after the Indians’ 7-2 victory over the Chicago Cubs at Cubs Park in Mesa. “You take into consideration the guy’s throwing at 10:15 in the morning. I thought he threw all his pitches and he looked strong. That was a good middle step. He’s doing well.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.