Salazar a No. 3 who can pitch like a No. 1

Indians right-hander ready to perform at same level as Kluber, Carrasco

Salazar a No. 3 who can pitch like a No. 1

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- For good reason, the preseason spotlight has been trained on Indians ace Corey Kluber and fellow starter Carlos Carrasco. Kluber won the American League Cy Young Award two years ago, and Carrasco has the makings of a rotation leader as well.

Danny Salazar has the makeup of a front-line starter, but he is relegated to the No. 3 slot within Cleveland's talented and highly touted staff. Asked if he wished the spotlight were placed on him a little more often, Salazar smiled.

"No, I don't mind it," he said. "I just want to be one of the five guys."

Actually, Salazar is positioned to steal some of the attention this year. He can light up the radar gun with his fastball, stymie batters with his buckling split-change and pile up strikeouts at a high rate. Salazar's combination of pitches and velocities could make him one of the AL's elite arms.

Helping Salazar's case for a breakout showing is the progress he made last year.

The Indians sent him to Triple-A Columbus to start the season, making it clear that Salazar did not have a spot reserved in the Majors at the time. The right-hander took the trip to the Minors in stride and continued to follow a diligent daily routine. After returning to Cleveland, he won 14 games, posted a 3.45 ERA and struck out 195 batters in 185 innings.

"He made unbelievable strides with his routines, the way he works," Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. "He's a professional pitcher now. Especially a starter, that's really a key component to those guys pitching well and consistently doing it. I thought he was one of our most consistent guys last year from Day 1 to the end. He pitched pretty good for us. This year, he's got to continue to do the same things."

Indians manager Terry Francona said Salazar should aim higher, too.

"When we say we like our young pitching," Francona said, "part of the reason we like it is we think they're pretty good, but we think they're going to get better. You have to recognize that you don't just want Danny to be a 12- or 14-game winner. We want Danny to reach higher. And, to do that, the things we talk about -- the process, the routines -- if he does that, his talent is going to take [over]."

Indians catcher Yan Gomes said Salazar's growth has come partly by learning how to pitch rather than just trying to strike everybody out.

"He's learning that he can't just grip it and rip it," Gomes said. "If you're a starter, I don't think you can get away with that. But, the thing is, he has the ability to be able to get away with a lot of stuff because he's that talented. He's that physically talented. He learned a little more [about] things that do work and things that don't work, so we're excited about what this year is going to bring for him."

Having Kluber and Carrasco ahead of him in the rotation certainly helps.

Salazar said he has watched both of those starters carefully, adding elements of their routines and pitching to his own. When Salazar takes the mound, he wants his teammates to feel as confident about winning as they do on the days Kluber and Carrasco pitch.

"I'm just trying to work really hard right now," Salazar said. "I'm trying to be accountable for the team. Any time they need me, I want them to know I'll be there and I'm going to do my job. That's what I'm looking for this year. That's one of my main goals. It's not like a competition, but you want to keep pace with [the other starters].

"You want to do the same thing they do because you know every time they go out there, they're going to give 100 percent. So you want to do that, too."

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.