CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – No Indians starting pitcher, save maybe Carlos Carrasco, has had a year so impressive that they are untouchable. Corey Kluber has dealt with a back injury and Mike Clevinger has been impressive in large stretches, but both have had their own struggles.
If your statistic of choice to measure pitchers happens to be ERA-, the pitching equivalent of the oft-utilized wRC+, Danny Salazar would be the 10th-worst starting pitcher in baseball at 133. A rating of 100 is average, Ervin Santana is a league-best 43 and Bortolo Colon is a league-worst 164.
That being said, Salazar would still be the fourth best starter on the Indians, as Josh Tomlin and Trevor Bauer have been the second and third worst at 161 and 151, respectively.
What makes Salazar the focal point of that struggling trio, however is the limited ability to make a move with Tomlin or Bauer. The latter two do not have minor-league options, while Salazar has one.
With Clevinger’s emergence, all three could be bullpen candidates, but Tomlin’s velocity may not play well in such a role, and Bauer has already been used in the bullpen.
The main issue with any of the three being moved out to the bullpen is that innings in the ‘pen are sparse between the go-to trio of Bryan Shaw, Andrew Miller and Cody Allen in crunch time. A move of any of the starters to the pen would stymie the emergence of Nick Goody, while causing Terry Francona to search for time to use a valuable arm.
If it were Salazar, the man with perhaps the most arm talent of the three wavering starters, he would more than likely assume the role of Zach McAllister or Shawn Armstrong in a long relief situation. McAllister has seen 19.2 innings over 14 games, while Armstrong has seen 12 in 9.
Such a limited exposure seems unlikely for someone deemed valuable enough to be the third starter on the American League Champions, albeit because of a tough stretch.
After another rough outing for Salazar on Saturday, Francona said that the team would not make a decision on the hard-throwing righty right then, but that the manager and his staff would consider the idea.
”We’ll kind of put our heads together and see what’s the next best step for him because I think he’s probably searching a little bit, too,” Francona said. “He had five walks. If you look at his strikes to balls, it looks pretty good. I still think he didn’t command the ball where he wanted to and there’s those walks that are mixed in that really hurt, like the inning when he came out. We got out of innings, there was traffic the whole time.”
Salazar maintained that he was rushing through at-bats and has been making attempts to slow down. He did not express a terrible sense of urgency, adamant that he was “getting there.”
The results have not gotten much better as the season has continued, and with Corey Kluber set to return on Thursday, a decision must be made.
The two most likely moves would be Clevinger being sent back to Columbus, though Salazar did not make a great case to stay with the big league club when the time comes.
As for a potential move to the bullpen or Triple-A, Salazar will not get ahead of himself.
“I mean that’s not in my plans. But I have no choice. I’d have to do it,” he said.