Salazar's start may have playoff ramifications

Righty faces Angels as Tribe ponders postseason roster

Salazar's start may have playoff ramifications

ANAHEIM -- Terry Francona will have some tough decisions to make when the time comes for the Indians' manager to pick his pitchers for the American League Division Series roster. One of the more intriguing calls will be what role Danny Salazar might fill, or whether the right-hander will be included on the staff at all.

Salazar has a big step coming on Thursday, when he will start against the Angels on a limited pitch count. The right-hander's performance in that outing could be a major factor as Francona and the Indians' decision-makers determine how to handle the pitcher's workload in the days leading up to postseason.

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"We're trying to get a gauge on where he is," Francona said prior to Tuesday's game against the Angels. "And I think by starting him, it probably gives him a little comfort there. I'm not sure how much we could really do that, but we'll see. We'll watch him pitch and, one, you see how far he gets stretched out and, two, you see, 'OK, is it a bullpen option? Should we keep getting him stretched out?'

"We'll try to just, like we always do, put our heads together and come up with the best way to go about it."

Salazar has missed time with both right elbow and right shoulder woes this season, opening the door for Mike Clevinger to emerge as a reliable starter for the Indians. Meanwhile, Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer are entrenched as Cleveland's top three starters, and veteran Josh Tomlin is as consistent as they come in terms of throwing strikes.

Salazar is happy that his setbacks did not derail the AL's top rotation, but he is now trying to figure out how he fits into the pitching puzzle. After missing most of the postseason a year ago due to injuries, Salazar just wants to help in any way possible.

"Right now, I'm going to do whatever they want," Salazar said. "Whether I'm in the starting rotation or bullpen, I just want to play. I just want to be part of the team for the postseason."

After returning from his recent shoulder problem, Salazar averaged 96.6 mph with his fastball in an abbreviated start against the White Sox. In two relief outings after that, the right-hander averaged 96.7 mph and then 97.6 mph. That offered Salazar some peace of mind that his arm is healthy. Now, there is just the matter of returning to pounding the strike zone and potentially getting stretched out.

"With him," Francona said, "once he knows he's healthy, he gets that extra gear that he doesn't have when he's worried."

Worth noting
• Outfielders Lonnie Chisenhall (right calf), Brandon Guyer (left wrist) and Michael Brantley (right ankle) did not travel to the West Coast with the Indians. The trio remains in Cleveland, where they are continuing to rehab their injuries. Francona did not have any further details on their status as of Tuesday.

Jason Kipnis played five innings in center field on Sunday and will continue that transition from second base on Tuesday and Wednesday against the Angels. Francona said the goal is continue to build up Kipnis' innings in the field leading up to a scheduled day off for him on Thursday.

• Larry Day, the manager for Class A Lake Country, and Kevin Howard, the hitting coach for Class A Advanced Lynchburg, joined Cleveland's coaching staff on Tuesday and will remain with the team for the series against the Angels. President of baseball operations Chris Antonetti and general manager Mike Chernoff also made the trip.

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.