CLEVELAND — Danny Salazar has gone from phenom to failure in a little over seven months.
The 24-year-old right-hander, who started for the Indians in the American League wild-card game last season, was optioned to Triple-A Columbus on Friday after struggling in his first eight outings.
“The end-all was ‘What’s in his best interest?’” manager Terry Francona said of Salazar, who fell to 1-4 with a 5.53 ERA in a 4-2 loss at Toronto on Thursday. “Obviously, we care about our team, but we tried to make the decision based on Danny. We thought sending him to Triple-A, allowing him to work on what he needs to work on, will benefit him there.”
Salazar allowed two home runs Thursday and has surrendered a team-high eight homers over 40⅔ innings. He’s lasted six innings or more in just two of his outings.
“Right now, when he’s making mistakes, he’s paying for it, and he’s not getting real deep in games,” Francona said. “He’s kind of gotten away from locating his fastball down. His breaking ball has been inconsistent and he’s kind of gotten away from his change-up. That was one of his best pitches.
“So now he goes down to Triple-A. We told him, ‘We don’t care about your numbers. We want you to execute pitches, use your change-up, get confidence back in that pitch and be armed to get major league hitters out when you get back.’ And he will be back, and he’ll be good.”
To take Salazar’s place on the 25-man roster, the Indians promoted Double-A Akron left-handed reliever Kyle Crockett, a fourth-round draft pick last year. To take Salazar’s spot in the rotation, Francona said Cleveland would promote right-hander Trevor Bauer from Columbus.
Bauer, 4-1 with a 2.15 ERA in seven starts for the Clippers, is expected to make his second start of the season with the Indians on Tuesday, and could fill Salazar’s spot for an extended spell. He allowed one earned run on four hits and struck out eight in six innings of a spot start April 9 against the Padres.
Crockett, 22, was a surprise addition. He allowed just one earned run during his first professional season — 24⅔ innings last year at the Single-A and Double-A levels — and had surrendered just one earned run over 15 games (15⅔ innings) for the Aeros before his promotion.
The call to the majors even surprised Crockett, who at this time last year was pitching for the University of Virginia.
“Honestly, no, I didn’t really think it was coming,” Crockett said. “(Aeros manager Dave Wallace) called me in and said, ‘You’re moving up.’ I was like, ‘That’s awesome. I’m going to Triple-A.’ And he was like, ‘You’re going to the big leagues.’ My heart stopped and I kind of just sat there and started crying. It was a great experience.”
Francona was asked if Salazar’s struggles are typical of every young pitcher trying to progress in the majors.
“Not all, but I would say a lot, for sure, especially a guy that came as quick as he did last year,” Francona said. “Sometimes you miss a little bit of a learning curve. When he got called up, he felt so good about himself. He was on a really good roll and he also was on a pitch-count limit, so he didn’t really go through lineups that many times.
“It was an adjustment and I think he’s continuing to understand that. We think Danny’s more than capable. I’m telling you, he’s going to be a good major league pitcher.”
- Francona said it was likely that second baseman Jason Kipnis (strained right oblique) would begin a minor league rehab assignment next week. Kipnis has been participating in baseball activities, and he ran in the outfield prior to the series opener with Oakland on Friday.
- An MRI performed on Nyjer Morgan’s right knee revealed a sprain, but no structural damage. Morgan was placed on the disabled list Thursday — a day after he sustained the injury while tracking down a fly ball as a late-game replacement for left fielder Michael Brantley.
- Brantley (back stiffness) returned to the lineup after missing one game.
During an interview on WTAM 1100-AM prior to Friday’s game, Indians owner Paul Dolan admitted that it has been a frustrating start to the season.
Cleveland entered Friday in last place in the Central Division, trailing the first-place Tigers by a season-high 7½ games.
Dolan called his team’s defense the worst he has seen during his tenure with the Indians. Cleveland led the majors with 38 errors through Thursday, while ranking last in the big leagues with a .974 fielding percentage.
Class A Lake County’s Clint Frazier went 0-for-4 in a 5-2 loss at West Michigan on Thursday, striking out three times and grounding into a double play. Frazier, the Indians’ first-round draft pick (fifth overall) last year, was batting .252 with a homer and eight RBIs in 26 games for the Captains through Thursday.
- The Indians are 11-9 against Central Division opponents and 8-14 against all others.
- Former Indians outfielder Coco Crisp returned to Oakland’s lineup after a seven-game absence with a strained neck.
- Tonight, 7:05, STO; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM, WMMS 100.7-FM. Tomlin (2-0, 2.13) vs. Kazmir (5-1, 2.28).