Tribe strives to get Salazar primed for playoffs

Tribe strives to get Salazar primed for playoffs

CLEVELAND -- The Indians are hoping to have Danny Salazar positioned to be an option for either the rotation or bullpen by the time October arrives. Pitching coach Mickey Callaway called that the ideal scenario on Sunday, but getting the pitcher to that point is a bit complicated at the moment.

With the season in the home stretch and Cleveland still jockeying for position in the American League postseason picture, and Salazar in the bullpen right now, the team will have to find an appropriate time to work the right-hander into a game. That is not an easy task, especially after Salazar declined an opportunity to get stretched out in a simulated-game setting.

"That's a hard one, because it's game situation," Indians manager Terry Francona said earlier this weekend. "That's why we were kind of leaning toward the sim game, and he didn't want to do it. So, we'll do the best we can, and that's what we told him."

Callaway said Sunday that Salazar would remain in the bullpen for the next three games, with the hope that an ideal situation will come up for him to get some work in. If not, Cleveland will again give the pitcher the option of throwing a simulated game, because the goal remains to get him stretched out in the wake of his recent stint on the disabled list.

"His thinking was that it's tougher for him to get amped up the way he wants," Callaway said of the simulated game. "He'd rather face hitters in a game, where he can actually throw 97 [mph] and do what we're asking him to do. I think that's fair. We are asking him to go out there, get after it and show us what you can do, because we want to have you for whatever we might need in the playoffs."

After a 15-day stay on the DL due to right elbow soreness, Salazar returned to the rotation on Tuesday in Chicago and averaged 96.6 mph on his fastball in an outing that lasted only two-thirds of an inning. The results were subpar, but five of the 11-hardest fastballs Salazar has thrown this season came in that brief appearance. That included his hardest heater (98.6 mph, per Statcast™) of the year.

"It gave him that peace of mind that he's healthy," Callaway said. "So, that was good."

Kipnis nearing return

Second baseman Jason Kipnis (10-day DL, right hamstring) fielded grounders and took batting practice on the field prior to Sunday's game against Baltimore. With the Minor League schedule complete, Francona said the challenge will be to get Kipnis some similated-game action before activating him.

Kipnis exits with an injury

The other issue is that the Indians have had a good thing going with Jose Ramirez, Giovanny Urshela, Erik Gonzalez and Yandy Diaz being mixed and matched between second and third base during Kipnis' absence. When Kipnis is ready to return, Cleveland will need to find the best way to work him back into the mix.

"One, I'm glad he's coming back, because he's a really good player," Francona said. "Two, he hasn't played for a long time, so like we always do, I'll sit down and talk to him and try to map out, not just the best thing for him, but the best thing for our team -- at least what we think it is. Because, he's not going to be able to even play nine innings right away."

Worth noting

• Lefty Andrew Miller (10-day DL, right knee) is scheduled to throw off the mound in a simulated game on Monday at Progressive Field. Francona said it is "still to be determined" whether Miller will need any additional mound workouts before being activated.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.