If Danny Salazar is able to pitch in the American League Division Series out of the bullpen, he’ll do so with a refined pitch repertoire.
For the purposes of that role in the ALDS and possibly further into October, Salazar is ditching his curveball and only throwing his fastball and split-changeup. Throwing the curveball isn’t good on his strained forearm, and if he’s only working an inning or two out of the bullpen, having the third pitch to keep hitters honest throughout a start isn’t as necessary as when he’s starting.
His third pitch also hasn’t been used much this season. Per FanGraphs, Salazar’s fastball and split-change have made up for 87.1 percent of his pitches this season.
“He kind of felt it on the curveball,” said pitching coach Mickey Callaway. “So that’s one reason not to throw it. Another reason is he’s not going to need it if he’s throwing one inning. There’s no reason for him to throw his third-best pitch.”
Salazar threw around 30 pitches on Wednesday—all fastballs and changeups. He’s also been bumping up the intensity of each bullpen session.
“He looked good,” Callaway said. “Good intensity. No hesitation at all with letting the ball go, and he is in a pretty good spot.”
Callaway noted that the possibility still exists that if the Indians advance past the ALDS and Salazar has additional time to get stretched out, he could make a limited start. It’s also possible that Salazar could appear in a game on Sunday, though that would require some quick progress and his clearing several milestones.
Corey Kluber has started to play catch but is for the most part still resting his strained quad muscle. When asked if he was confident Kluber would make the start in the ALDS, Callaway brought up Curt Schilling’s toughness on the mound, albeit without a bloody sock this time.
“He's not going to not make that start,” Callaway said. “He'd be like Curt Schilling. He's going to go out there and pitch. It'll be fun to watch.”
It would be a surprise if Kluber were not the Game 1 starter, though it is possible the Indians could throw Trevor Bauer in Game 1 and Kluber in Game 2. Using a three-man rotation in a five-game series would then allow Kluber to throw twice if needed while also not going on three-days rest with an injured quad.
Though, Indians manager Terry Francona has previously said that the goal of a series is to win it, not just extend it. It’s something he’s always believed in and the one thing he spoke to when asked about the postseason last week. That was echoed by Callaway on Thursday, indicating if at all possible, Kluber will be the guy to throw on three-days rest as the ace of the staff. The Indians will have to abide by their medical situation, but they don’t plan on being passive if another route is available.
“I think we need to see how he's feeling at the time and go from there,” Callaway said. “The goal is to not just extend a series, it's to win one. We're going to put everybody in the best position to do that. We know how taxing coming back on three days rest can be. If his groin or his quad is not going to allow him to do that or give him the best chance to do that, then maybe we'll make a different decision.”