Posted on May 28, 2017, by Bryan Zarpentine
Heading into the season, the Cleveland Indians were supposed to have one of the best rotations in baseball. A somewhat shorthanded rotation helped carry the Indians to the World Series last year, and so a rotation at full strength to begin the 2017 season was supposed to dominate the AL Central and bring the Indians back to the Fall Classic. But things have not turned out as planned, as Cleveland’s rotation has the highest ERA in the American League. Now the Indians are considering a significant shakeup to their rotation, with Danny Salazar possibly moving to the bullpen.
Through 10 starts this season, Salazar is 3-5 with a 5.50 ERA. He’s striking out hitters at a higher rate than he ever has before, but he’s also walking batters at an alarming rate and paying the price for it. Currently, Salazar has a WHIP of 1.59, far higher than in any of his previous major league seasons. Opposing hitters are also batting .272 against him, a substantial leap from last year’s .235 clip.
With Corey Kluber set to return from the DL on Thursday, the Indians need to find space for him in the rotation, and Salazar may be on the chopping block. Mike Clevinger was called up from triple-A when Kluber went on the DL earlier this month and has been one of Cleveland’s best starters ever since. Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin are also bullpen candidates given their struggles this season, but with the pressure on Salazar during his start Saturday against the Royals, he did not respond.
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“He had five walks,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of Salazar’s start. “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 walks mixed in that really hurt, like the inning when he came out. We got out of innings, there was traffic the whole time.”
For whatever reason, Salazar believes that he’s rushing his delivery, which may be contributing to his struggles this season.
“That’s something that I’ve been working on, staying calm on the mound, trying to take my time and make my pitches,” Salazar said. “I come down and make one pitch good, and then the next one I’m rushing again. That’s what’s happening right now. But I’m getting there. I’m going to keep working.”
However, Salazar may soon be working on his issues as part of Cleveland’s bullpen. Francona said Saturday that no decision has been made, but the club is clearly at a point with Salazar where something has to be done to get him turned around.
“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 after Salazar’s start on Saturday. “I think we want to sit down and talk through things because we want to help. We want to help him, we want to help our team.”
Salazar admits that he never envisioned himself going to the bullpen, as it would be a huge step backward for a pitcher who was an all-star last year. But he appears to be willing to do what it takes to get back on track.
“That’s not in my plans, you know, but I have no choice. I have to do it,” Salazar says. “I don’t expect to go from one outing and be 100 percent different the next outing. That’s something that takes a little bit of time.”
It’s not yet a certainty that Salazar is moving to the bullpen, and based on performance, Bauer and Tomlin may be more deserving of the demotion. However, there’s no denying that Salazar has been one of the team’s biggest disappointments this season, and the fact that a move to the bullpen is being considered for him is evidence of how far he’s fallen. It may not be the ideal move for Salazar, but it’s possible that it’s exactly what he needs to get his season turned around and what the Indians need to help get their entire rotation living up to expectations.