Salazar's hard work paying off in strides for Tribe

Starter among league leaders in BAA, K's, FIP, WHIP

Salazar's hard work paying off in strides for Tribe

CLEVELAND -- Danny Salazar watched fellow Indians starter Corey Kluber pitch his way to the American League Cy Young Award two seasons ago. Last year, Salazar saw Carlos Carrasco emerge as one of the league's top arms in a breakout campaign of his own.

Following another gem in a 13-1 rout over the Reds on Tuesday night, Salazar said he wants to have a turn for Cleveland. The hard-throwing right-hander wants this year to be the one in which he takes that gigantic step forward, missing bats and opening eyes along the way.

"This one," said Salazar, who then grinned. "And the next one. And the next one after that."

So far, Salazar has built a foundation for that kind of year for the Tribe.

It would be easy to overlook Salazar's performance against the Reds, seeing as the Indians' lineup spotted him a seven-run lead by the third and a dozen-run lead buy the sixth. His effort, however, should not be ignored.

Salazar struck out eight, marking the fourth straight outing he has tallied at least that many. He logged 7 1/3 innings, scattered five hits (a season high) and his lone run allowed came via a sacrifice fly in the seventh. After Brandon Phillips drew a walk and Jay Bruce singled to open the second, Salazar locked in and held Cincinnati to an 0-for-16 showing into the seventh.

"He was good. He was real good," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "He kept his concentration throughout, which was really good."

That has been a trend to date this season for Salazar.

In his last outing, for example, Salazar labored with his command and slipped into bases-loaded jams in each of the first two innings against Houston. The Astros came away with no runs in those frames. On May 1 in Philadelphia, Salazar made a costly balk and gave up a pair of runs in the second. After that misstep, he held the Phillies to a 1-for-12 performance the rest of the way.

"I think that goes with the maturity that we were waiting for from him," Indians catcher Yan Gomes said. "I think he's definitely taking that next step in that aspect of it."

With his performance against the Reds, Salazar collected his fourth win and lowered his season ERA to 1.80, which ranks third in the AL and sixth in the Majors. Salazar's .156 opponents' batting average leads the AL, and is second to only Cubs ace Jake Arrieta (.153) in baseball. Salazar's 31-percent strikeout rate leads the AL, and only trails Jose Fernandez, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Noah Syndergaard in the Majors.

Salazar is also among the league's leaders in strikeouts (61), Fielding Independent Pitching (2.62) and WHIP (1.00), among other categories.

"He's a stud. He's definitely taken the next step forward," Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis said. "He's pitching like a top-of-the-rotation guy, which he is. He's not just a thrower anymore. He's not just a guy coming out, throwing 97. You're seeing him work really well off of his changeup and his slider, and he's really figuring out what he is as a pitcher. It's fun to watch."

Salazar does not plan on settling with where he is as a pitcher right now, either.

"I've been working really hard to be what I am right now," he said. "I'm going to keep working."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. 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.