It's hard to find fault in a team that's riding a 14-game win streak. Even when the starting pitching doesn't cooperate, you get the bullpen throwing 8 1/3 scoreless innings and the offense averaging 5.3 runs a game since the All-Star Break. But the tiny disappointment of a small man pitching poorly did mar Tuesday's game. In his 2/3 innings allowing a grand slam and only one hit, what was Danny Salazar doing wrong?
It's hard to judge a pitching performance based on less than an inning, especially when a guy is coming off the disabled list. Salazar threw 26 pitches though, roughly a quarter of what we'd see out of a start. It's a decent sample. And many of the raw numbers were encouraging. His velocity hung in the mid 90's, even flashing 99 on the gun at one point (rounding from 98.9, but still), and yet he got thumped. Control, it seems, was an issue. Salazar located like this:
That green groover in the middle of the plate? That was the home run. Only two balls in play in his abbreviated start, but they were the least of his worries. There are a lot of pitches up in the zone, and in fact out of the zone. In many pitchers being that is a problem. But look back to Salazar's excellent start against Minnesota in mid-August:
Even that day he lived up in the zone and in the middle of the plate. When you throw as hard as he does with the higher than average spin rate he is able to work, that's her prerogative. It works when you have the fall-off-the-table splitter like he usually does, and did against Minnesota. He just wasn't able to get to it against Chicago. Between that and his inability to locate really anywhere in the zone, possibly due to overthrowing, he just couldn’t get it done.
It's odd, because Salazar's release point was little different from what we've seen out of him in the past, according to TexasLeaguers.com. This is where he was coming from Tuesday:
And here's from back in August:
And heck, here is his release point for the whole year:
The only problem with Tuesday is perhaps he's a flying out horizontally a bit more than in the past, getting away from his body on release due to trying too hard. That small smidge could be the difference between a strike on the black and a ball. But he's not exactly pinpoint this year on his release point. That could be the reason or his general inconsistency and higher than normal 10 percent walk rate.
Before the start, pitching coach Mickey Callaway said he just wanted to see Salazar go out and pitch with conviction, like he believed in himself. It sounds like hogwash, but intent is vital in pitching. While it wasn't effective, I do think Salazar showed intent. He was attacking batters, or trying to at least, he just couldn't find the zone because he hasn't really pitched in two weeks. This was like a glorified throwing day for him, it just happened to be against a group of bad major leaguers. It was definitely ugly, but also not a referendum any more than his mid-August start in Minnesota was.
Salazar does also have a relative recent history of struggling in the first inning. Since 2015, a span that contains 321 batters faced in the first inning, he's got a 5.15 ERA with 36 wlalks and a .344 wOBA allowed. He's talked about it before, the Indians even made him cut back on his weighted ball usage and adjust his warmup because they thought it was partially to blame. That combined with his coming off the DL, maybe it's nothing, just a bad outing saved by the ‘pen. The conviction was there, the control just wasn't. The coaching staff needed to save the game from getting away and Salazar from losing it too quickly and losing faith in himself. Coaching is part psychology, after all. He's got about four starts before the end of the year to become his best self and shake off the rust. And shoot, he almost threw 100 miles per hour. He should be given the opportunity.