On the surface, the offseason addition of slugger Edwin Encarnacion was a big reason why many MLB pundits picked the Cleveland Indians to be a major contender in 2017. That said, pitching was still seen as the key to the Tribe’s success this year. Considering the starting rotation was in tatters by the time the team made it to Game 7 of the World Series last year, it was safe to assume a healthy staff could help bring about a better outcome this time around.
A month and a half into the 2017 campaign, the rotation many saw as one of the best in the league isn’t exactly off to the start we expected.
Carlos Carrasco – who thankfully dodged a significant injury scare Monday – has come out of the gate on fire. Outside of him, though, the performance has been uneven at best.
Team ace Corey Kluber is on the shelf with a back tightness after an uncharacteristically rough few starts to open the year. Josh Tomlin was settling down from a miserable first few games, but his brutal performance today displayed his tendency to regress. Trevor Bauer will tell you he’s pitched incredibly well, his 6.92 ERA is only a result of the other team getting lucky. Rookie Mike Clevinger – up from Triple A while Kluber heals – has had his moments, but is also having issues with walks.
And then there’s Danny Salazar.
Inconsistency has been the trademark for Cleveland’s Dominican fire-baller, and nothing has changed this season. While he’s striking out opposing hitters left and right, he’s also countering this by giving up runs in bunches.
Salazar’s erratic performance on the mound is but one of a few problems plaguing the Indians’ rotation. Unfortunately, the team has no choice but to try and figure out how to fix it. Preferably as soon as possible.
Last night’s loss to the Tampa Bay Rays pretty accurately summed up Salazar’s season thus far, if not his time in Cleveland as a whole, based solely on how contradicting his line looks. On one side, his nine strikeouts in just five innings pitched is very impressive. That said, he gave up six hits, only two of which actually stayed in the park. It wasn’t exactly the follow-up he needed after giving up five runs in 2.2 innings during his previous start.
At this point in the season, Salazar has given up nine home runs, just seven shy of his 2016 total in just under 100 less innings pitched. Even more alarming is the fact he’s giving up a lot of his damage early, essentially putting his team in a hole immediately.
Almost half of the RBIs Salazar has allowed this season are coming in his first fifteen pitches. Opponents are batting .410 against him in offerings 1-15. While said average declines the further he gets into the game, it’s still quite an advantage to spot the opposing team.
Sure, his 26 strikeouts this season shouldn’t be ignored. That said, if he’s collecting all these K’s after spotting the other team three or four runs right out of the gate, said stat seemingly comes with an asterisk.
If you’ve followed Salazar during his time in Cleveland, you’re hardly shocked by his 2017 showing. At times, he can look like a stud, as he did in a first half of 2016 which earned him a trip to his first All-Star Game. Likewise, he also has a tendency to unravel in the blink of an eye.
Salazar’s core issue almost always seems to be control. While he has a handful of quality pitches in his arsenal, he’s not always able to throw them where they need to go.
This is the main reason Salazar is struggling at the start of this season, and it’s something manager Terry Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway need to solve in a hurry. Cleveland doesn’t have many other options available. Right now, the only choice the team seems to have is riding out his inconsistency while hoping to find a solution.
Of course, the Indians have had no such luck with this in Salazar’s previous four seasons with the team. Here’s hoping the fifth time is the charm. Otherwise, his trademark unpredictability is going to drag down a rotation already working through some significant problems.
Casey Drottar is an independent sports writer. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook