GOODYEAR, Ariz.: Last week when the Indians flip-flopped Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar as the starter and reliever in a spring-training game against the Oakland A’s, it was Carrasco who told Salazar of the switch.
On Wednesday, Carrasco delivered even more exciting news.
Salazar said that’s how he learned he would be the Indians’ starter for the home opener April 4 against the Minnesota Twins.
The atmosphere will be almost as electric as when Salazar last pitched there. He started and took the loss in the American League Wild Card Game on Oct. 2 against the Tampa Bay Rays.
“A little bit less pressure,” Salazar said of how the appearances will compare.
But the 24-year-old right-hander learned the importance of the home-opening assignment when he checked his Twitter account.
“The fans, I just opened my Twitter and everybody was saying ‘Congratulations,’?” Salazar said. “That’s kind of cool. I like it.”
The Indians set the 25-man roster for Opening Day on Monday in Oakland, with Carrasco beating out Josh Tomlin for the remaining spot in the rotation. Tomlin was considered for a bullpen role, but instead will be a starter at Triple-A Columbus. Right-handers Blake Wood and Scott Atchison earned the seventh and eighth spots in the bullpen.
The moves left the Indians with 13 pitchers and 12 position players. Outfielder Michael Bourn and designated hitter/first baseman Jason Giambi will start the season on the disabled list.
Carrasco making the roster wasn’t a surprise because he was out of minor-league options and Tomlin had three remaining. But Salazar earning the No. 4 spot in the rotation over Carrasco was.
For months, the Indians have proceeded cautiously with Salazar, whose fastball has been clocked at 100 mph, because he underwent reconstructive elbow surgery in August 2010. Earlier this month, Tribe manager Terry Francona suggested Salazar might be the fifth starter to take advantage of an off day April 3.
“Mickey felt like coming out of the gate that extra day is really good,” Francona said of pitching coach Mickey Callaway. “It will be the first time they’re under the lights, there’s usually a couple extra miles an hour. That’s human nature. With that comes some stiffness.
“Now if we get weather, things like that, we’ll make adjustments.”
Salazar is slated to make his final spring start Saturday against the San Diego Padres at the University of San Diego. Carrasco’s next time out is scheduled for April 5 against the Minnesota Twins.
Carrasco worried that a rocky outing March 19 against the A’s might hurt his chances, so he pitched aggressively Monday against the Cincinnati Reds.
“I put in my mind that this is a competition and I need to prove I can be in the rotation. That’s what I did,” Carrasco said. “I put everything in the past because that was my last game. I feel happy to make the team.”
Carrasco regards 2014 as an important year, especially after undergoing reconstructive surgery on his right elbow in August 2011 and making changes in his delivery this offseason. Last season, Carrasco spent time at Triple-A Columbus. With the Indians, he went 1-4 with a 6.75 ERA and was more effective late in the season out of the bullpen.
“Last year, I didn’t have a good year,” he said. “I think this is going to be a big year for us, and for me, too.”
The Indians didn’t hide the fact they wanted Carrasco in the rotation, but Francona said they reserved judgment in case there were injuries.
Tomlin learned he was headed to Columbus on Tuesday evening after making his final spring start against the Texas Rangers. Tomlin pitched only two innings for the Indians last season following elbow reconstruction in August 2012.
“It was weighing on everybody, including us,” Francona said of Tomlin. “There’s numerous reasons how we came to this conclusion, but it’s still difficult when you respect the way a guy goes about it so much.
“He’s not being penalized for having surgery because he worked so hard not to be rehabbing this spring. But we have to not just make a team for Opening Day, but beyond that.”
General Manager Chris Antonetti pointed out that the Indians didn’t get to the third game of the season last year before needing another starter when Scott Kazmir suffered an abdominal injury. Then after four appearances, free-agent acquisition Brett Myers strained the tendon in his elbow that landed him on the disabled list April 20. He never pitched again for the Tribe before being released in August.
“We talked about putting Josh in the bullpen because he might very well be one of our best 11 or 12 pitchers,” Antonetti said. “But in the end, we didn’t feel that was fair to Josh nor the organization because we feel he’s a major-league quality starter. With Josh, there’s not a lot of development left; it’s getting the consistent work and putting the injury further behind him.
“He’s going to help us this year in the rotation at some point, it just won’t be Opening Day.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at https://ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.