CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Indians were beat up by the Minnesota Twins in the first of a four-game series at Progressive Field, 12-5.
This column features my takeaways from Monday’s game. If you want more baseball coverage, you can follow me on Twitter (@TJZuppe).
1. NOT GOOD
The terms “pitcher” and “MRI” never look good in the same sentence, but Cleveland hurler Danny Salazar will be undergoing one on Tuesday morning after experiencing another rough start, his third over the past four outings.
The righty gave up six runs and three homers in just two innings on Monday night vs. Minnesota, and has now allowed 21 earned runs on 35 hits over his past 24 innings (7.78 ERA).
Salazar has giving up seven homers over his past five starts, one more than he allowed over the first three months of the campaign. Adding to the possible concern, the right-hander’s velocity has been gradually trending down since he skipped a start in June because of shoulder fatigue.
Now, the righty has been experiencing discomfort in his right elbow in between starts and the team wants to find out why.
2. DANNY’S PERSPECTIVE
Salazar said any discomfort he feels typically comes the day after his start. The issue has been bothering him since just before the All-Star Break, and while he usually feels better by the time his turn in the rotation comes around, it resumes once he gets deep in games or the following day.
“It’s been there,” Salazar said. “It’s kind of the reason why I didn’t throw when I went to San Diego [for the All-Star Game] and we took a little break after that to see. But now, it’s been there for a while. Now, it’s just getting worse sometimes.”
Salazar and the Indians have examined different parts of his past few outings. The dip in velocity is noticeable, but mechanically, the team hasn’t found much different from his outings earlier this season, games where the righty was dominant.
But for Salazar, it’s the uncertainty about what is causing the issue that is frustrating him the most.
“It’s bad for me and for the team,” he said. “I think the sooner we [find out what it is], then the sooner we’ll get through this. I know if I keep pitching like this, I’d be doing damage for the team.”
The only bright spot from Salazar’s perspective: The righty doesn’t feel the same sort of discomfort he felt prior to needing Tommy John Surgery in 2010.
“Totally different,” he said. “The ligament is right. Everything in that part of the elbow is fine — totally fine.”
3. TITO’S PERSPECTIVE
Salazar certainly looks like a different pitcher. And that goes beyond just his performance. He isn’t throwing with the same conviction and isn’t demonstrating the same energy and bounce in his step.
It’s pretty clear that this thing — whatever it is — is bothering him.
That’s why, for the sake of everyone involved, the team is sending Salazar to get some answers on Tuesday.
“We’re going to get him looked at tomorrow, mostly, I hope, just for his peace of mind,” Francona said. “Hopefully, nothing and then we can move forward, and I think Danny can relax a little bit. And if there’s a need to look at it further, we can. I just think that makes sense because the last couple of outings, he hasn’t been himself.”
The Indians are trying to do what’s best for the righty, both physically and mentally. Prior to this recent stretch of less-than-stellar starts, Salazar was pitching like a top candidate for the American League Cy Young Award.
He’s been a big reason for Cleveland’s first-place standing in the AL Central. And there’s no question how much he means to the team’s odds of getting to October and making a deep run in the MLB postseason.
“I think we always try to do the right thing, that’s why we’re going to get him looked at,” Francona said. “Watching him pitch, he doesn’t look like somebody that’s hurt to me, but again, your arms are pretty fragile. I think the right thing to do is just to get him looked at.”
4. CALLAWAY’S PERSPECTIVE
Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway has been carefully examining Salazar after every start, and he’s just not seeing the hard-throwing righty pitch with the same conviction, vigor and willingness to attack opposing hitters. He’s also attempted to evaluate the health of the starter, who continues to experience the elbow issue dating back to just before the All-Star Break.
From everything he’s analyzed, he isn’t seeing a reason to believe Salazar is hurt. Yes, the velocity is down a bit, but he was also able to crank it up to 97 MPH on Monday night, averaging 94.4 MPH on his four-seam fastballs against the Twins (according to BrooksBaseball).
And he’s not sure if the drop in velo is injury related or just a mental hurdle. The only way to know for sure is to send Salazar for precautionary examination.
“I think he’s had that problem in the past where he feels like maybe something is wrong, where he’s going to back off a little bit,” Callaway said. “So, we’re going to get it scanned for his peace of mind. If nothing’s there, then he knows, ‘Hey, I can go out there and let it go the way I should let it go.’”
However, Callaway also realizes that whatever is bothering the righty, physically or mentally, is impacting his performance.
“It just seems like it’s not the same Danny when he’s out there,” he added. “He usually has fun when he’s pitching. You’re not seeing that.”
5. MILLER TIME
The Indians didn’t acquire lefty Andrew Miller from the New York Yankees in order to maintain seven-run deficits. But that’s exactly when Francona called on the talented reliever on Monday night, with Minnesota up 10-3 on Cleveland in the eighth inning.
Even with the game out of hand, he got a nice ovation from the few fans still remaining at Progressive Field.
And after all that, Miller was immediately greeted by a solo homer from Joe Mauer, one of his four hits on the night. The solo run was just the eighth earned run Miller has allowed all season, but why was he in the game to begin with? All jokes aside, the lanky left-hander was brought to Cleveland to preserve close games down the stretch and beyond.
Monday’s game didn’t qualify.
Well, for one, Miller hadn’t pitched since July 26 with New York. But that wasn’t the only reason Francona inserted him into Monday’s rout.
“Really tried to work it where [he could] shake a little bit of the rust off, so when we do need him, hopefully tomorrow, he’ll have a little bit of [work],” Francona said. “Plus, just being new and everything, I thought it made sense just to get him out there, but not too much.”
Miller retired the second batter he faced and exited the game after throwing just eight pitches.
Did you get the license plate of the truck that ran the Indians over?
Max Kepler was a one-man wrecking crew on Monday night, going 4-or-6 with three two-run homers and a double, becoming just the fifth Twin in franchise history to blast three round-trippers in a single game.
Holy cow. Max Freaking Kepler. Have yourself a day.
The rookie drove in six runs and now leads Major League Baseball with 13 home runs since June 19.
“Jeez,” Francona said. “[It’s] kind of like we feel about [Tyler] Naquin. We talk about Naquin kind of figuring it out and learning and getting confident. He looks like he’s doing the same thing. It looks like he’s getting better by the week.”