Covering the Bases: Game 12
Some notes and quotes from the Indians’ 2-1 loss to the Mariners on Wednesday.
FIRST: Out of the chute, Danny Salazar has been the best starter in Cleveland’s rotation. Before the seventh inning on Wednesday, the righty had actually registered at least one strikeout in every frame he worked in this season.
But, I tweeted about that streak, so it ended. My bad.
As I’ve said numerous times to this point in these posts, it’s WAY too early to draw any conclusions about what is or is not working for any player (pitcher or batter). But, we can start looking for things to monitor. So, I went looking to see what, if anything, Salazar has done differently to this point this season.
Has he altered his pitch usage?
That’d be a no.
In fact, it’s pretty incredible how close his pitch distribution has been so far this season.
So, let’s check out his pitch velocity…
OK, then. That’s pretty consistent so far compared to 2015, too.
Maybe we should ask the man himself…
Hey, Danny, what’s been working for you early on this year?
“Being aggressive,” Salazar said. “Not slowing down with any pitch, and just being aggressive with every single pitch.”
Now, this is interesting, and perhaps it was just a here-is-a-baseball-cliche response, because it’s hard to find much evidence to support that statement from Salazar. He’s actually thrown fewer strikes so far compared to 2015. And, his velocity isn’t any higher than a year ago. It’s actually a skosh from last year.
Statistically speaking, it actually looks like the hitters are the ones who have been more aggressive against Salazar. Heading into Wednesday’s start, batters were swinging at 76.7 percent of pitches in the strike zone (up from 69.3 percent in ’15). Salazar has exploited this, inducing a 16.8-percent swinging-strike rate (up from 11.8 percent in ’15).
So, maybe it’s a mentality, which we can’t really quantify. His response reminds me of Carlos Carrasco in the final two months of 2014. Then-bullpen coach Kevin Cash stressed going all-out with every pitch, attacking the hitters aggressively and not taking his foot off the gas. If Salazar is trying to adopt that mental approach, that’s not a bad thing.
On Wednesday night, the righty was charged with two runs over seven innings, in which he struck out seven, walked three and allowed three hits. That’s usually going to net a win. On the year, Salazar has a 1.47 ERA with 23 strikeouts, nine walks and a .129 (8-for-62) opponents’ average. That’s good, and the Indians can only hope it lasts.
“When you start backing [starts] up, and talking about consistency, that’s a good feeling,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I don’t see any reason why that should change. He’s working hard, his routines are good, he’s going to be OK.”
SECOND: The reason for Salazar’s unfortunate trip to the loss column? Mariners right-hander Taijuan Walker. He went six innings, struck out six, walked none and allowed only one unearned run. Walker is only the fifth righty Cleveland has seen in 12 games, so maybe there was some rust for the Tribe.
Then again, Walker has done well against the Indians in his young career. He has given up just one earned run in 20 innings in his career against Cleveland.
“He’s got velocity, off-speed, athletic,” Francona said. “He’s good. He’s kind of how we feel about Danny. I’m sure that’s the same way they feel about him.”
THIRD: The Indians also made a handful of mistakes that cost them under the low-scoring circumstances.
In the third inning, Juan Uribe led off with a double, but was quickly caught too far off the base on a comeback to the mound from Tyler Naquin. Walker caught Uribe in a rundown and erased the runner before only allowing a Jason Kipnis sac fly.
Later in the eighth inning, Naquin led off with a single with the Indians trailing by one run. Jose Ramirez then attempted a sacrifice bunt — Francona said that decision came from the dugout — but chopped it right back to the mound. Joaquin Benoit gloved it and nabbed Naquin at second base. Kipnis flew out. Francisco Lindor grounded out. And that was that.
In this case, I didn’t have an issue with the bunt strategy, but the execution was poor and cost Cleveland.
“He ended up getting to second in the inning on a wild pitch,” said Francona, referring to Ramirez. “But, you know, in a game like that, you need to do every little thing, because we were having such a tough time.”
HOME: That brings us to the seventh inning. With two outs, Uribe drew a walk against Joel Peralta. Francona made a sound decision calling upon Rajai Davis to come off the bench as a pinch-runner. Unfortunately, Davis got fooled by Peralta on an 0-1 pick-off throw to first base. Davis shifted to his right and he was dead in the water. Another rundown ensued and the Mariners got the tag on Davis for a crucial out.
“Those things [happen] when you’re trying to be aggressive, which he was,” Francona said. “Peralta kind of gave him a good [move] — kind of dropped his head. The idea was he was going to be aggressive. I know it probably doesn’t look great, but the idea was for him to be aggressive there.”
Stay tuned for more…