There was a point in the early months of the 2017 season where it seemed as though the bread and butter of the Cleveland Indians – their starting rotation – was actually their biggest area of concern. The team was getting shaky performances from each of its starters more often than not, which had a big hand in Cleveland’s underwhelming start to the year.
I bring this up solely as a perfect transition to this note the Tribe’s Twitter handle sent out this morning.
As you can see, a lot has changed since the early months of the season when the Indians rotation seemed to be stuck in the mud.
One of the most obvious reasons for this turnaround is the Cy Young worthy performance Corey Kluber has given since coming off the DL a few months ago. However, Cleveland’s ace isn’t the only one responsible for the rotation’s turnaround. In fact, I’d be willing to make the argument he’s not even the biggest reason for it.
To me, it’s Danny Salazar who deserves the most credit for the sizable rebound the Tribe’s rotation has gone through.
I don’t want this to sound in any way like a slight against Kluber. His streak of 14 straight games with 8+ strikeouts has been a spectacle to see, and has made him a shoe-in for a Cy Young nomination at the very least.
At the same time, Kluber’s dominance is expected, as he’s almost always the most reliable hand in Cleveland’s rotation. The trouble the Indians continually run into is finding someone to be just as consistent as him.
By the end of May, many terms were used to describe Salazar’s 2017 season, “consistent” surely wasn’t one of them. While his strikeout numbers were impressive, he struggled mightily when it came to keeping hitters off the bases. Every one of his starts was littered with walks and home runs. He seemed unable to put forth an efficient performance, and was eventually sent to the bullpen before being sidelined by a shoulder injury.
His first start since returning from the DL marked a pivotal moment for the Indians, as it took place a little over a week before the trade deadline. Cleveland’s front office needed to see if he could be relied upon down the stretch or if it made more sense to target another starter on the market.
What he’s shown from that night on has been nothing short of a blessing to the Indians.
The stats from his past five starts speak for themselves – a 1.39 ERA, 46 strikeouts, five earned runs and only nine walks. He’s been able to pitch through seven innings in all but two of these games. His overall ERA has dropped 5.40 to 3.92, and he’s already collected 30 K’s in August alone.
Sure, Salazar isn’t the only member of the rotation pitching well right now. Carlos Carrasco and Mike Clevinger both had solid rebound starts over the past weekend, while even the typically inconsistent Trevor Bauer has had four straight impressive outings.
At the same time, Salazar’s sudden shift from erratic and ineffective to outright dominant is having the most impact. His newfound ability to extend starts beyond five innings has greatly eased pressure on the bullpen. In no longer giving opponents free passes and numerous home runs, Salazar is putting less pressure on the offense than it usually deals with in his appearances.
If he can do this consistently – something he’s shown struggles with in the past – it would be an incredible boost for the Indians’ postseason hopes. That Cleveland was able to rely on Kluber, Josh Tomlin and a nine-fingered Bauer and make it to within a run of a World Series win last year was astounding. If Salazar can stay healthy and provide these kinds of outings come October, it’s easy to get bullish on the Tribe’s chances.
Again, what Kluber has done this season is nothing short of impressive, and he deserves every bit of praise being thrown his way. That said, the fact Salazar has gone from glaring liability to a lights-out and reliable starter is huge for Cleveland.
Should he keep this up, the team as a whole will only become more imposing down the stretch.
Casey Drottar is an independent sports writer. Subscribe to his podcast, or follow him on Twitter and Facebook