GOODYEAR, Ariz.: If Danny Salazar thought the Indians’ careful handling of his surgically repaired right elbow and his 100 mph arm ended with last season’s loss in the American League wild-card game, he quickly found out otherwise.
The talented right-hander has been held out of the Tribe’s first eight spring training games. He will make his debut this morning, throwing one inning in a simulated “B” game at the Indians’ facility.
That action is more highly anticipated than the Tribe’s 3:05 p.m. game against the Chicago Cubs in Mesa. To this point, Salazar had thrown only bullpen sessions and live batting practice.
“They told me that early because they want to be patient with me now so in the season I can throw 180 or maybe 200 innings,” Salazar said Thursday before the Indians’ 1-0 victory over the Cubs at Goodyear Ballpark. “That’s part of the program they’ve got for me for in spring training, to build something [to] maintain your spot for the season.”
After undergoing surgery in 2010, Salazar was limited by a pitch count last year as he rose from Double-A Akron to Triple-A Columbus to the Indians, where he made 10 starts and compiled a 3.12 ERA, and totaled 145 innings. But Tribe executives have much greater things in mind.
“We’re trying to get his gas tank to the fullest because this will be more than likely some uncharted water for him,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “There’s not going to be an innings limit and he hasn’t done that for a while.
“That’s why we probably started out a little bit slower with him because we don’t want to interrupt his season. It’s based on trying to have him out there every five or six days for the whole year.”
To that end, it’s possible that once the season starts the Indians could take advantage of off days on April 3 and April 14 and tab Salazar the fifth starter to further save his arm.
Asked if his goal is to stretch Salazar out to at least five innings by Opening Day on March 31, Francona said: “I don’t know we’ve even thought of it. Opening Day is not the [finish] line. With off days, it buys you an extra nine days if you want it. We care so much about getting him ready for his career that a week in April is not the end of the world.”
Salazar said he’s excited because his slider is working so well right now.
“He should be excited about everything,” Francona said. “His stuff is electric. The more he pitches for us, the better we are. Saying that, there’s a way to get there. Just turning him loose in February, I don’t think we felt that was the best way to get there.”
Indians right-hander Justin Masterson does not seem to be distracted by contract talks, which he publicly addressed Wednesday. Masterson started and threw three scoreless innings against the Cubs, allowing three hits, walking one and striking out three.
Two of the hits came from the first four batters he faced, before he said he got his sinker and slider working.
“I don’t think they’ve faced me before and they’re not used to the movement,” Masterson said of the National League’s Cubs. “The ball’s been moving for me, that’s one of the great things. Just a touch off, [got] behind in a few counts but was able to get back and make them hit the ball. I really didn’t want to walk anybody. I was about to go underhand on a couple just to make sure they put it in play.”
As for the ongoing talks, Masterson said he’s not waiting for the phone to ring or monitoring Twitter.
“I don’t do Twitter,” he said. “I think there’s a fake Twitter out there about me.”
Asked if that was the ultimate compliment, he said: “I don’t know about that. It’s the ultimate troublemaker.”
The Indians improved their record to 7-1, scoring their only run on a bases-loaded walk to Asdrubal Cabrera in the fourth inning off right-hander Justin Grimm. Nick Swisher and Jason Kipnis opened the inning with singles, and Michael Brantley was hit by a pitch.
Aaron Harang (1-0, 1.80 ERA) got the victory, throwing two scoreless innings, as did Trevor Bauer, who struck out four.
“When he walked off the mound, he didn’t look happy with that last pitch,” Francona said of Bauer. “But he’s got margin for error with his stuff if he works ahead. He’s more comfortable in his delivery and with that comes confidence.”
The Indians’ Carlos Carrasco (1-0, 2.25) is scheduled to go three innings today against the Cubs, followed by Corey Kluber, Vinnie Pestano and Blake Wood. Edwin Jackson (0-1, 4.50) is scheduled to start for the Cubs.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.