Salazar makes big impression in first start of season

Salazar makes big impression in first start of season

MINNEAPOLIS -- Danny Salazar fired a fastball and watched Twins leadoff man Danny Santana foul it back. Three pitches into his first start of the season on Saturday, the Indians righty had shown three heaters. It was time to turn to his splitter.

Salazar's fourth pitch registered at 87 mph -- nearly a 10 mph drop from his average fastball velocity -- and the bottom dropped out of the split-change that spun in Santana's direction. Minnesota's shortstop swung through the pitch for the first strikeout of the afternoon for Salazar, who was only getting warmed up in an overpowering outing that led the Indians to a 4-2 victory.

"That was the Danny I know from past years," Indians catcher Roberto Perez said. "He was attacking the zone."

Perez caught Salazar during their ascension through Cleveland's farm system and he has worked with him in the Majors for the past two seasons now. The rapport helped provide a comfort level for Salazar, who was officially recalled from Triple-A Columbus prior to his Saturday start.

After a rocky Spring Training, and a brief trip to the Minors, Salazar knew what was at stake.

"I have things to prove," Salazar said.

The 25-year-old Salazar has been working on his command, which went missing in the spring and led to an 8.18 ERA in his Cactus League outings. The hard-throwing right-hander has been working on his daily routine, trying to find the consistency that has been missing over the past few years. He has been working to regain the trust of the Indians, who are giving him another shot at being a regular part of the rotation.

Against the Twins, everything came together.

Over six innings, Salazar piled up 10 strikeouts and held the Twins to two runs on six hits with two walks. He had eight strikeouts in his first three innings and continued to challenge Minnesota's lineup with high-velocity fastballs and then fooling them with the split-change. Just for kicks, Salazar even flashed a curveball in a sixth-inning at-bat against Santana.

"I've been practicing throwing it," Salazar said with a wide grin.

According to brooksbaseball.net, which compiles PITCHf/x date from every Major League game, Salazar generated 23 missed swings in his 105-pitch performance. His four-seam fastball had an average pitch speed of 97.9 mph, with 99.9 mph being his max for the day. Salazar also averaged 87.3 on his split-change and 86.7 with his slider.

That marked the highest average fastball velocity in an outing for Salazar since Aug. 7, 2013 (98.2 mph).

"He came out and established, I would say, easy velocity on his fastball," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "And he held it through his outing. I think the pitch count was a little bit elevated, just because there was some strikeouts, especially early. But he did a good job working ahead and then he mixed in his breaking ball."

Perez said there was little reason to stray from that approach.

"He throws at 97, 98 and guys try to kind of cheat to get to it," Perez said. "And that's when he throws that splitty down in the dirt and they just swing at it. We kept pounding the zone with fastballs, because they were late on the fastball. It was good to see him doing that today."

Salazar could not have asked for much more for his seaon debut.

"It's awesome," he said. "I've been working. This is the first game that I threw here, but you can see the results. They are better than in Spring Training."

That could be great news for the Indians.

"We've all seen it. We saw it before. We all know it's there," Indians closer Cody Allen said. "He's a young guy with really good stuff. He obviously was out there and everything was working for him pretty well today. His stuff was really good. Hopefully, that's what we see predominantly throughout the year."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.