Posted on October 22, 2016 by Bryan Zarpentine
The Cleveland Indians flew through the American League playoffs, winning seven of eight games, behind outstanding pitching. Despite missing starters Carlos Carassco and Danny Salazar due to injury, the Indians have shown great starting pitching depth. There’s now a chance that Cleveland’s pitching staff could be even stronger for the World Series, as the Indians have not ruled out the possibility of having Salazar available.
A strained forearm has kept Salazar from pitching since September 9, but he has recovered from the soreness, as well an elbow issue in early August that sent him to the DL, and has thrown several bullpen sessions since the end of the regular season. More importantly, Salazar has been able to throw all of his pitches in those bullpen sessions, including his curveball. The fact that he has no limitations in his bullpen sessions means Salazar is all but ready to face hitters.
Salazar, like many of Cleveland’s other pitchers, is expected to throw a simulated game at some point this weekend, as the Indians await the conclusion of the NLCS to find out if they will play the Chicago Cubs or Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series. Salazar’s simulated game could be up to three innings depending on how the outing goes, and the Indians will be able to assess him afterwards.
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“I think the good news is if Danny pitches and he pitches healthy and he’s throwing the ball over the plate, we have a really good pitcher for however amount of innings he’s built up for, which can potentially help us,” said Indians manager Terry Francona.
If Salazar is deemed healthy enough to pitch and be included on Cleveland’s World Series roster, the question becomes whether he’d be used out of the bullpen or if the Indians would consider giving him a start. Salazar, who was 11-6 with a 3.87 ERA this season, has never pitched out of the bullpen during his major league career, and has just two career relief appearances in the minors. Whether Salazar would be stretched out enough to give the Indians more than three or four innings in a start could complicate matters.
Cleveland’s rotation is already a bit complicated considering the status of Trevor Bauer, who faced just four batters in Game 4 of the ALCS before he was removed because his pinky wouldn’t stop bleeding following a non-baseball injury. However, Bauer is confident he’ll be ready to pitch in the World Series. “He thinks it’s healing really good. There’s just that one area down at the bottom where the skin isn’t quite as healthy as the rest of it,” Francona said. “So he’s going to suture it back up so it won’t bleed. That’s really the only issue, and he’s very confident that this is not going to be an issue.”
If Bauer is fine to start along with Corey Kluber and Josh Tomlin, the Indians would have to decide between Salazar, Mike Clevinger, and Ryan Merritt for their fourth starter. Cleveland could look to piggy back two of those pitchers in one game, especially if Salazar isn’t stretched out. Of course, after Merritt’s performance in Game 5 of the ALCS, starting him is an intriguing option. The Indians could also consider using Salazar exclusively out of the bullpen if they think he can pitch multiple games, potentially giving them more depth behind Andrew Miller and Cody Allen.
A final decision on Salazar isn’t likely to be made until after the weekend, but the possibility of having him back for the World Series is an interesting proposition for the Indians. A pitching staff that has been outstanding throughout the playoffs could be even stronger in the World Series if Salazar is able to return from injury.