Cleveland (92.3 the Fan) – The game already knew about Danny Salazar, and it would be impossible to ignore his fastball.
With a heater, two-seam and four-, that lives in the mid-to-upper 90s, the young righty has made his name, and a 2016 All-Star selection, on the back of his fastball.
But as Salazar tries to transition from All-Star to Cy Young contender and beyond, the changeup will become his X-Factor. It seems it may already be happening.
After giving up a back-to-back home runs to two of the game’s best power hitters in Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager on Saturday, Salazar did not allow another hit to the Seattle Mariners through 6 1/3 IP. To boot, neither did Andrew Miller or Cody Allen to finish the game.
The right-hander said he was not necessarily disappointed with the pitches that led to the big flies.
“That was only three pitches,” he said. “Those two home runs, I think that they were looking to attack them. Those weren’t even bad pitches.”
Salazar worked largely with fastballs away in the 3-run first, but used the changeup sparingly, using three of the five changeups in the inning to strike out Danny Valencia, which ended the frame.
The hard-throwing righty pulled the string 30 times in the outing, second-most of any pitch, behind his four-seamer. The pitch garnered 8 of his 13 swings and misses, and a called strike. The change was put into play 5 times, and was never put in play for a hit.
“I used my changeup and my slider a lot today,” Salazar said. “I didn’t throw many curveballs. We didn’t think it was necessary to throw it, but I think all of my pitches were good.”
Through his first five starts, Salazar had thrown the changeup 33.3% of his pitches, the most in his career to date, the second-most coming in his debut season of 2013 at 20.6%. The number will most likely regress towards the mean, but expect it to remain his career-high through the end of the year.
Aside from early success on the year with his change, the last two seasons, the best of Salazar’s career, have come with an improvement on the pitch. Salazar’s changeup carried a pitch value of 2.1 and 0.9 in his first two seasons, but ballooned up to 19.3 and 12.3 in the past two.
Another number that has jumped along with the success of his changeup has been his swinging strike percentage, which currently sits at a career-high 16.7%. Again, the number will more than likely even out as the season goes on, but Salazar has not had a SwSt% above 12% since his rookie season.
What may still need to change is Salazar’s approach to his starts. He came into the day allowing 8 of his 11 earned runs on the season on the first time through the lineup, 5 in first innings, and added the only 3 runs to that tally today.
Manager Terry Francona said pre-game that he and pitching coach Mickey Callaway had been working on his warmup, though Salazar maintained nothing changed on Saturday.
“One, his warmup used to be really long. Like, extended, long. They tried to cut that back a little bit. One, two hopefully get him deeper into the game and also maybe cut down on fatigue,” Francona said. “I think Danny’s actually in a pretty good place. Sometimes small sample sizes can be a little different, but I think for the long haul, he’s situated really well. I really do.”
Salazar said he cut down on his long toss Saturday because of the wind, but that nothing else changed otherwise.