Improved focus behind Salazar's success

Tribe starter able to remain composed, attack hitters

Improved focus behind Salazar's success

BOSTON -- Danny Salazar is worrying about what happens next. If the Indians starter makes a mistake on the mound, he is trying to quickly erase it from his mind and move on. Finding his focus following a setback has not always been easy for the hard-throwing right-hander to do.

The strides Salazar has made were on display in Monday's 8-2 rout of the Red Sox at Fenway Park. After the starter surrendered a leadoff home run to Travis Shaw in the third inning, he kept his composure and set aside the next two batters with strikeouts. Salazar allowed only one hit to a dozen hitters after Shaw's shot and cruised through seven strong innings en route to a win.

"It's keeping my head up," Salazar said. "And attacking them."

Salazar believes his turning point arrived in Pittsburgh last month.

During a July 5 outing against the Pirates, Salazar was pounded for five runs and the righty was sent to the showers before he could even log five innings. What ate at the pitcher in the wake of that loss was how he reacted after Pittsburgh turned a string of good pitches into hits. Rather than concentrating on the fact that the Pirates simply got the best of him, the pitcher lost his focus.

That start served as a wakeup call for the young starter.

"Sometimes you make good pitches," Salazar said. "I really did. I made good pitches and they got a couple of base hits and then, when that happens, sometimes you get down a little bit. You let down your guard. That's a thing that, as a pitcher, you never can do that. You have to stay focused and be ready for the next pitch."

Salazar has kept things in line, and then some, since that start seven weeks ago.

"I think that Pittsburgh game upset him a little bit," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "Since that day, it's been a lot more steady."

In his past seven starts, Salazar has spun a pristine 1.45 ERA with a .147 opponents' batting average. The right-hander has logged 49 2/3 innings, during which he has piled up 48 strikeouts against 16 walks. Against the Red Sox, who scored 45 runs over their previous three games, Salazar allowed just the one run on four hits, ending with five strikeouts and one walk.

The low strikeout total continued more of a recent trend for Salazar, who has averaged 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings (the third-highest rate among qualified American League starters). Over the past seven turns, Salazar's strikeout rate has dipped some to 8.7 per nine innings, but that is fine by him. Salazar is allowing fewer hits, inducing softer contact and lasting longer in his starts.

"The strikeouts, they are going down, and the innings, they are going up," Salazar said. "That's what we're trying to do right now. Attack the game, try to get quick innings and that's it."

Francona has enjoyed seeing this new version of an already talented pitcher.

"[It's] a pretty successful formula, especially when you have the pitches he has," Francona said. "When he works ahead, all of a sudden you start to see maybe some more defensive swings or guys putting it in play, but maybe not with so much authority."

Salazar collected his 11th win and lowered his season ERA to 3.16, which ranks seventh in the American League. He ranks sixth in the AL in strikeouts (156) and WHIP (1.06), and trails only Sonny Gray in opponents' batting average (.207).

Salazar said it all stems from his improved mentality.

"Right now," he said, "I just feel like I'm growing up."

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