Cleveland Indians All-Star Danny Salazar made his shortest start of the season Monday night against the Twins, getting pulled without recording any outs in the third inning, having allowed six runs on six hits, including three home runs. After the game, Salazar told reporters, "There's something in my elbow. I don't know what it is. We don't know. I think we're going to find out tomorrow." That last bit was referring to the MRI Salazar will undergo this morning. It is being described as "precautionary," but I for one suspect something is wrong.
Last night was the worst of it, but Salazar has been struggling for a month now. At the end of June, Salazar had a 2.22 ERA and 3.09 FIP, with 10.32 strikeouts per nine innings and only 0.58 home runs per nine innings. He was named to the All-Star team, and was a Cy Young contender.
Since then, he's averaged fewer than five innings per start, and has posted a 7.88 ERA and 5.76 FIP. His strikeouts have remained strong, but he's allowed 2.63 home runs per nine innings after last night's three-HR outing. He's also been giving up harder contact and more line drives. Both of those trends actually began even before July, but a very low BABIP kept the harder contact from leading to worse results in June. His velocity has been in decline for over a month as well.
If today's MRI doesn't turn up any problems, we'll be left to wonder what it is that has caused Salazar's problems, because there are definitely problems.
You may recall that Salazar skipped the All-Star Game due to elbow soreness, so what he described last night isn't new. He also said that what he's feeling right now is different from what he felt in 2010, when he had to have Tommy John surgery to repair his elbow. In my experience though, few professional athletes can be trusted to accurately assess their own medical state, so Salazar's comments don't provide me with any real comfort.
If Salazar lands on the DL, it's not clear who would take his spot in the rotation. Cody Anderson is already on the 25-man roster, but he's been working as a reliever lately, and hasn't gone 4+ innings in a game for two months. T.J. House, Mike Clevinger, and Ryan Merritt are all on the 40-man roster. House had some success with the Indians in 2014, but has been a reliever for two months now. That leaves Clevinger and Merritt as the most likely candidates, unless the team is able to trade for a pitcher who clears waivers. Clevinger is the more highly-regarded prospect, and has the better numbers for Triple-A Columbus, where he's posted a 3.00 ERA and more than a strikeout per inning while playing his home games in a tough park for pitchers.
Ideally, Salazar gets a clean bill of health, it turns out his struggles were all in his head, and with his confidence boosted by the MRI results, he gets back to his early-season form. I expect it will be otherwise, and if that's the case, I think Clevinger should get another opportunity. A rotation with Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Josh Tomlin in the top four spots would still be a good one.