Covering the Bases: Game 131

827SalazarFinal: Braves 2, Indians 0

FIRST: It appears that The Salazar Rules are in full effect.

After four innings and 77 pitches against the Braves, right-hander Danny Salazar was pulled from his start by manager Terry Francona. This falls in line with the way Cleveland has handled the 23-year-old pitcher of late. In his previous outing, Salazar was lifted after 75 pitches (five innings). The time before that, it was 71 pitches (four innings).

The only time Salazar has gone over 100 pitches this year (and in his career, according to the pitcher) was when he logged 103 against Detroit on Aug. 7. Prior to that, he averaged roughly 70 pitches per outing throughout his Minor League slate earlier this season.

Even before Salazar’s start in Atlanta, here is what Francona had to say:

“He’s coming off Tommy John and we need to recognize that, be cognizant of that,” said the manager. “We’re on the same page organizationally. It’s just, in the middle of a game, when you know he can get guys out, but the kid has a long career, sometimes you have to kind of give yourself a kick in the pants to do the right thing.”

With an eight-man bullpen, which includes a former starter in Carlos Carrasco, the Tribe can certainly afford to pull Salazar after four. That was especially the case Tuesday — one day after the Indians enjoyed a scheduled day off. With a rested bullpen, Francona did not need to unnecessarily increase the pitch count of a highly-touted prospect that has already surpassed a career high for innings in one year.

That said, can the Indians afford to keep plowing forward — while trying to contend — with one of their starters essentially limited to four or  five innings?

My guess is that the Tribe does so at least until rosters expand in September. That’s when someone like Josh Tomlin could potentially be added as a spot starter (or sixth starter) to provide some extra rest for guys like Salazar and/or Scott Kazmir (also dealing with a higher workload than in recent years). The Tribe could also use the expanded roster to add a reliever or two to the mix to help the situation.

“We’re in a position with him right now where, when he has long innings,” Francona said, “we owe it to him and to the organization to keep an eye on him. There’s going to be a day when we can turn him loose and let that four [innings] turn into six or seven, but not right now.”

“His next start will be in September,” the manager added later. “So that will ease it a lot. It’s just kind of common sense. We’re coming off an off-day so we can manage it. We’ve been able to manage it. He’s only made four or five starts, so we’ve been able to manage it.”

SECOND: Little things loom much larger in a game with only two runs scored.

Consider the situation that arose with two outs in the second inning. With Salazar on the mound, the Braves put runners on the corners for No. 8-hitter Elliot Johnson. The pitcher was looming in the on-deck circle, so an intentional walk to Johnson was certainly one way to go.

That said, it is also worth noting that Johnson headed into the night with a .186 average and a .465 OPS on the season. He was also hitting .180 (.456) vs. right-handed pitchers and .076 (.192) over his past 36 games, entering Tuesday.

All things considered, Francona said pitching to Johnson was the way to go.

“The idea,” Francona said, “is you really have an advantage when you have an eight-hole hitter and you have the pitcher up behind him. Second and third, maybe [you walk Johnson]. But a guy that’s hitting .180-something, that’s a real good time to pitch. You set up the next inning also.”

Of course, now that we all have the benefit of hindsight, it proved to be the game’s turning point.

Salazar threw five straight fastballs to Johnson and then catcher Carlos Santana called for an offspeed pitch. The rookie right-hander shook off the catcher and stuck with a fastball, which Johnson sent to the wall in right-center field. Right fielder Drew Stubbs couldn’t make the catch and Johnson wound up with a two-run, game-deciding triple.

“I was a little bit disappointed in myself,” Salazar said. “I felt great tonight, but I couldn’t find my release point. Changeup, fastball, slider — everything was up. Santana was calling for offspeed pitches. I just didn’t trust myself to throw it and I just tried to throw the fastball away [to Johnson].”

THIRD: Credit where credit is due: nice job by the Tribe bullpen tonight. Marc Rzepczynski, Matt Albers and Carlos Carrasco teamed for four shutout, hitless innings of relief after Salazar’s four innings. The Indians relief corps now has a 2.65 ERA over 139.1 innings in the past 43 games.

“They were tremendous,” Francona said of the relievers’ work against the Braves. “They zig-zagged through the rest of the game and gave us a chance, because they were so good. That was impressive.”

HOME: Facing rookie lefty Alex Wood, though, the Indians’ offense went quiet. The 22-year-old 2012 Draftee scattered five hits and issued four walks, but held Cleveland to an 0-for-6 showing with runners in scoring position and an 0-for-10 showing with runners on base.

“There was a lot of deception in his delivery,” Francona said, “and there’s some late movement. He’s not a real hard thrower, but there’s a ton of deception. We had a couple chances, but not a lot going.”

Indians infielder Mike Aviles said there were no excuses.

“I know me, personally,” Aviles said, “I had four people on base where I could’ve gotten a hit that could’ve changed things. I think we left 10 people on base. I throw myself under the bus here. We have to do better with people on base, because our pitchers did their job. Danny gave up two runs. I’ll take that from a starter all day. And the bullpen came in and threw up zeros.

“They did their job. We, including myself, especially myself, just didn’t do ours. There’s no sugarcoating it. At the end of the day, we had people on base and we had a chance to do what we needed to do. We just didn’t do it.”

Cleveland has scored three runs or fewer in 14 of the past 23 games.

ON DECK:

Indians (71-60) at Braves (79-52)
at 7:10 p.m. ET Wednesday at Turner Field

–JB

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