CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – Throughout Danny Salazar’s rehab from the mild forearm strain he suffered in September, the Indians have remained true to their first responsibility: Get the young righty healthy before considering any thought of adding him to the postseason roster.
And it appears Cleveland will likely make a similar call when it comes to his potential inclusion on the American League Championship roster, revealing that Salazar would probably continue his rehabilitation in Arizona while the Indians open up their best-of-seven matchup against the Toronto Blue Jays.
“I don’t think he’s progressed quite to the point where [he’s ready],” manager Terry Francona said prior to the team’s workout at Progressive Field on Wednesday.
“He’s doing pretty good. He’s not back yet where he’s throwing all his pitches or letting it go 100 percent. I think if we ask him to do that, he might be reaching right now. We’ve been pretty vocal about the first priority is getting him back healthy. I think this proves it. We wouldn’t do that to somebody.”
Pitching coach Mickey Callaway, however, has not completely ruled out the righty helping Cleveland in the ALCS, but admitted “it’s getting late in the game” for Salazar to prove himself ready to pitch out of the bullpen in the upcoming series.
“He played catch today,” Callaway said. “It looked good. Better intensity. He’s going to throw off the mound to hitters tomorrow.”
Recovering from the injury he suffered on Sept. 9, Salazar has worked through his bullpen sessions, throwing only fastballs and changeups, staying away from his curveball.
“We just haven’t tried,” Callaway said of the pitch. “We figured it’d be best just to go fastball-changeup, because that’s probably what he’d throw in a one-inning stint anyway.”
Despite missing the injured Salazar and Carlos Carrasco in the American League Division Series against Boston, the Indians still managed to sweep the Red Sox in the best-of-five series, advancing to the league championship series while overcoming a mountain of adversity along the way.
The challenges will not get any easier for Cleveland in the longer series against Toronto, facing a team equally as intimidating and nearly as productive as Boston, but the additional games will force the Indians to use a four-man rotation in the ALCS.
The addition of a healthy Salazar to the bullpen might have helped Cleveland bridge the gap in a bullpen-anchored Game 4 in Toronto, but with the righty potentially not ready to face big league hitting, keeping him at the team’s facility in Gooyear might provide the best course of action for both the team and Salazar’s long-term health.
Three Indians pitchers threw to live hitters during Wednesday’s workout. The group of hurlers included relievers Jeff Manship, Kyle Crockett and Cody Anderson.
Crockett, who has been dealing with a bit of a cranky back, was not on the club’s ALDS roster, and Manship and Anderson did not appear in the three-game sweep of the Red Sox.
Francona believes the live batting practice is helpful for the pitchers and hitters during the long break between series.
“If I had a concern, it’s the guys not facing pitching,” Francona said. “It’s not something they enjoy, facing guys when it doesn’t count, but I think seeing some live pitching out of the arm is good for them.”
When it comes to managing a seven-game series as opposed to a shorter five-game series, Francona doesn’t believe it’s necessary to dramatically change the way he navigates postseason games. And he certainly doesn’t want his club to change the way they play.
That’s part of the message he intends to stress to his players prior to the series opener against Toronto.
“Sometimes,” Francona said, “coming off a five-game series, you tend to think, ‘Oh, man. Seven games. That’s a long [series].’ You need to pay attention to detail and you need to get after it and treat every game like it’s your last one. I just think that’s the best way to win.”
The Indians’ reward for topping the AL’s top run-scoring team in 2016, the Red Sox, is the opportunity to square off against the AL’s fourth-highest run-scoring club, the Blue Jays.
Toronto finished ninth overall in baseball in runs scored and clubbed the third-most homers (221) in the American League this season.
The powerful group has belted 10 home runs over their first four games in the MLB postseason. Slowing the top of Toronto’s lineup will be key for Cleveland’s pitching.
“Shoot, they’re really good,” Francona said. “I don’t know that you get to this part of the year where you don’t face really good teams.”
Callaway concurred with Francona’s assessment, pointing in particular to the dangerous heart of Toronto’s order, which features Josh Donaldson, Edwin Encarnacion and Jose Bautista.
“They’re a little bit different makeup than Boston,” Callaway said. “They’re not going to sit around and take a first-pitch strike. You can’t just groove a first pitch to them.
“You’ve got to throw quality strikes right out the get-go, and then make sure you stay ahead. That’s going to be the challenge, making sure you throw quality strikes early and see what happens after that.”