Danny Salazar was scintillating on Saturday in his return to the rotation, there’s no other way to say it.
Everything he was supposed to be this year, everything he was for half the season a year ago, it was on display against the Toronto Blue Jays. Danny reminded me of one thing in that start, something I was a fool to forget in this long layoff: When he’s primed and pitching like he can, Danny Salazar is the best kind of pitcher.
It might be wrong to describe what Salazar does as pitching, other than in the strictest sense. He doesn't pitch, he just throws the ball hard, mostly. When he does it like Saturday, it’s awesome. There’s no guile, no deception. Just annihilation.
When Salazar’s teammate Josh Tomlin takes the hill, he has to sneak past hitters, making them look one way and pitch another, and he still gives up home runs. Salazar doesn’t need to worry about that because he has the quality of “can throw a ball through a brick wall”. Which sounds impossible, but there’s that story of Steve Dalkowski, the Baltimore Orioles prospect who could throw harder than anyone, literally throwing a ball through the outfield wall one time. I think Salazar could do that when he’s feeling right. I love that he just pitches via domination, simply beats the hell out of batters.
On Sunday, Corey Kluber, the spitting image of the stereotypical pitcher because he might not be a human, struck out 14 batters. He was as perfect as you can be without being, you know, Perfect. He got a lot of swinging strikes. Those pitches were here:
Many times that’s where swinging strikes are located, because you get them by deception. A curve or slider that pairs with some kind of fastball to leave the hitter guessing. Kluber has all those things, and he has great versions of all those things. He’s a great pitcher.
Salazar wasn’t as good as Kluber this weekend. That’s like saying a spotlight isn’t as bright as the sun. It’s unfair. Coming off the disabled list, though, he struck out eight and had 14 swinging strikes, 10 on the fastball. It was dope. He also got them like this:
Traditionally, that’s not where you want to pitch. If Tomlin pitched like that, he’d last a third of an inning. Traditionally, that’s what location during batting practice looks like. But Danny didn’t care, he just walked up there and blew them away. He also dropped a few split changes in for good measure, that’s what’s down at the bottom of the zone there. But for the most part it was straight gas.
So Salazar isn’t a pitcher in the normal sense. He’s a thrower. That’s not a long term tenable position.
Justin Verlander was a thrower for a while, but had to get away from that and became great. The best pitchers, or at least the ones that get the most swinging strikes, work the mind of the batter as much as their own arm. I like to think Chris Sale just whips back and heaves, but he’s actually only throwing a fastball 36.1 percent of the time, the third lowest rate of his career. He’s made it up with changes and sliders, keeping hitters off balance. He did live on gas for a couple years though, and it was fun.
That’s where Salazar is right now, and when it’s on, it’s dazzling. Challenging major leaguers like that, and winning? It’s beautiful viewing. There’s a reason that barely six foot tall bearded man stalks the mound like he’s a mile high. I hope he keeps it up. Eventually he might either explode or else he’ll learn how to “pitch”, but Saturday was a lot of fun.
He should do it again.