July 11, 2013
A major-league debut is a special day. It's the culmination of years of development for the team, years of hard work for the player, and years of dreaming for the fan. And nothing is more special than the major-league debut of a top starting prospect. The starting pitcher is what each game revolves around, so a debut start is like an entire game devoted to a player most fans have never seen pitch.
Today we had one of those special days. Danny Salazar, who for years had languished in the periphery of Indians prospectdom, had started to reach his always high potential, ripping through both the Eastern League and the International League. With Trevor Bauer and Carlos Carrasco faltering in their major-league opportunities, the time had come to give Salazar a shot at a big-league start, and it was very much deserved. Even though Salazar has been on pitch counts all season (he had Tommy John surgery in 2011), he had averaged 5 innings a start (or about 12 pitches/inning), all while managing to strike out 12 batters per 9 innings. His stuff, which before the elbow surgery was considered very good, had actually gotten better. Salazar arrived in Cleveland with a fastball sitting in the mid-90s, an above-average changeup, and sharp slider. It's the stuff that ace dreams are made of, though his body (6'0", 190 lbs) points towards more of a relief ace future.
These debuts almost always end in disappointment, for rarely does reality match your inflated expectations. With prospects you always accentuate the positive, haven't learned of a player's perhaps fatal flaw, and more importantly, haven't seen him fail. Today disappointment was nowhere to be found. The slight pitcher had easy mechanics and a fastball full of life, a changeup that made several Blue Jays look silly, and the composure of a pitcher five years more experienced. Salazar only threw 89 pitches, but he went six innings, striking out seven (the most by an Indian making his MLB debut since Luis Tiant in 1964), and allowing just two hits and one walk. He didn't allow a hit until the sixth inning, and although he would later allow a run, it didn't lead to any implosion. He retired Edwin Encarnacion on a groundout to end his spot start, and he'll head back to Columbus brimming with confidence.
The offense, like on Tuesday night, did just enough. The Indians took an early lead when Asdrubal Cabrera homered off R.A. Dickey in the first inning, but didn't score again until the bottom of the sixth inning, when Lonnie Chisenhall dumped a single into left field. The single should have scored just one run, but Rajai Davis' awful throw allowed a second run to score. The Indians got another gift run in the eighth when Jose Bautista fell down on his way to catch a lazy fly ball. Drew Stubbs, who was on first base, scored, and Carlos Santana ended up with a rare triple.
That made the score 4-1, and it looked like Chris Perez would have an easy save. Perez had pitched quite a bit lately, but still had been one of the more effective relievers since returning from the DL. And it looked like he would indeed breeze through the ninth, as he retired the first two batters on five pitches. But then Adam Lind smashed a double over the head of Stubbs. And then Colby Rasmus drove a single into right field. And then JP Arencibia walked. Now the tying run was on first base, and the go-ahead run came to the plate. When Rajai David made contact, those of us listening on the radio felt that sickening feeling in the pits of our stomachs when initially described by Tom Hamilton, but Michael Brantley ran the ball down on the warning track to preserve the game and the series win for the Indians.
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