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Danny Salazar was incredible in 2016 until he wasn't

What started out as an incredible season for Danny Salazar ended in weird injuries and a disappointing finish out of the rotation. But all hope is not lost; Danny Salazar will return.

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I've said multiple times, both in articles as well as during the LGT Live videos, that Danny Salazar is my favorite pitcher on the Cleveland Indians. He may seem like an odd choice given that he is on the same team as Corey Kluber and Andrew Miller, but I've been a big fan of Salazar since he made his debut in 2013. In fact, he was so good in his (limited) time that season that he earned the start in the AL Wild Card game against the Tampa Bay Rays. Since then, we've seen Danny struggle (hello, 2014), bounce back and be awesome (hello, 2015), and ultimately be a mixed bag of incredible/terrible while battling some injuries (hello, 2016).

A Tale of Two Dzars, Part I

Depending on which half of the 2016 season you look at, you will see either a Danny Salazar who was looking like a dark horse for the AL Cy Young or a Danny Salazar that was derailed by injuries and couldn't make it out of the sixth inning at any point after July 26th. Early on in the season when Carlos Carrasco was injured (for the first time), Trevor Bauer was still figuring things out, and no one truly believed in Josh Tomlin, Danny Salazar was making a case as the staff ace behind Corey Kluber. His first half of the season was tremendous; in 104.2 innings pitched, Salazar struck out 118, had an OPS against of .613, had a career low K/BB of 2.57, and many believed that he may actually start the All-Star Game for the AL. But then...

Injuries were not kind to Danny Salazar

Just as the Cleveland Indians were making their run towards taking a lead in the division, the injury bug started to rear its head again when it attacked Danny's shoulder and pushed his start back. A week later, Salazar came back and, while he didn't dominate, he didn't appear to be having any shoulder issues when he made a late start against the Los Angeles Angels.

A few weeks later, Danny Salazar and teammate Francisco Lindor were each named to their first All-Star Game. This was a joyous occasion (that would later be magnified with the addition of Corey Kluber in place of an injured Marco Estrada), but it was quickly dampened when it was announced that Danny would not pitch in his first ASG due to elbow discomfort. Alright, so Danny doesn't get to pitch in a meaningless popularity contest in the middle of July. A few extra days of rest should be good for him, and Salazar will be right back to dominating hitters with his upper-90s fastball and his silly changeup, right? Wrong.

A Tale of Two Dzars, Part II

Danny's elbow continued to bother him into August, and when an MRI showed some inflammation, he was placed on the 15-day DL right at the beginning of August. For a pitcher who has already had Tommy John surgery, any issue with the elbow should be immediately alarming. After a good two and a half weeks, Danny returned to the rotation against the White Sox on August 18th and...things were not good. Salazar lasted just one inning in his return to the mound, and the rest of the season seemed to be more of the same. In the second half of the 2016 season, Salazar saw all his stats from the first half balloon to discouraging figures; in the 32.2 innings that he threw post-ASB, his OPS against shot up to .928, he started walking more batters, and he couldn't give the Tribe any length. He was still striking out batters at a fantastic clip (11.8 K/9), but with so many pitches being used to get through so few innings, he was not effective at all.

Danny and the coaching staff felt like something wasn't right, so he underwent another MRI in mid-September. This time, the MRI revealed more than just inflammation; a strain in his right forearm would knock Danny out for the remainder of the regular season.

A Glimmer of Hope

If you watched the World Series (I'm assuming you did, anyway), you may have heard mention of a player who had suffered injuries during the regular season and had worked his tail off to make it back just in time to help his team play in the World Series. And no, I don't mean Kyle Schwarber. Danny Salazar made his 2016 postseason debut in Game 2 of the World Series. He wasn't able to strike anyone out, and he did walk 2, but he made it through a scoreless inning for Cleveland. In Game 6 (the game I was able to attend), however, he looked vintage Salazar. In two innings, he allowed just one hit and struck out four without walking a batter. His velocity was up (as it was in Game 2), and his control seemed to be better than it had looked in months. If this is the Danny Salazar that Tribe fans can expect in 2017, the rotation will be, once again, one of the premiere forces in Major League Baseball. Until then, enjoy watching Danny Salazar make the Rangers look silly: