The Cleveland Indians are, as they have been the last couple years, a deeply flawed team. They’re still good, hence the winning record and being in the race for a Wild Card (and a division title for the more reckless hopefuls among us), but there’s a lot we can, and do, complain about.
So the news that Danny Salazar is creeping his way back to health in Arizona, and may actually pitch real major league games in the not too distant future is of course great news. He’s dazzling when he’s healthy, and even at 80 percent he’d be pretty damn good. It’s just that it doesn’t do anything for the Tribe, it doesn’t clear up any blemishes.
But at the same time, who cares?
Look, the Indians do need to find more consistent offense. Lindor and Mercado and Santana have all been dazzling, either typically so in Lindor’s case or surprisingly so for the other two. Those three aren’t going to get it all done, so someone is going to have to figure it out, whether it’s the front office trading for a bat or someone on the team figuring out hitting.
Pitching is not an issue. Right now the starters are 11th in both ERA and FIP and fourth in strikeout rate, and this is with Zach Plesac, Adam Plutko,Jefry Rodriguez, Cody Anderson and Aaron Civale making 24 total starts. Clevinger is back, Kluber will be soon, and Carrasco is somewhere on the road to Cleveland, so that will revert to the ways of the last few yeasr, at least some. The bullpen is even better, 10th in K rate, 1st in walk rate, second in ERA and 6th in FIP. They can throw, that’s not an issue.
So what does a glass-armed pitcher who hasn’t thrown a legit pitch in a year and a half do for this team? Pitch, duh. The fact of the matter is, the Indians still have something like 700 more innings to eat up this year, and are counting on either rookies or three pitchers with time on the IL this season to eat up a good chunk of it. Even if they can only squeeze 60 or so out of Salazar, that’s 60 that Brad Hand or Adam Wittgren or Carrasco or Clevinger don’t have to. If the eventual goal is still to get to, and then make noise in the playoffs then more pitching is a good thing, right?
And so what if he just comes back a reliever? That’s what I’ve been begging for for a couple years now. We’ve seen his inability to stay healthy when he has to start, just look at that half-a-Cy Young he won in 2016. Like a poor man’s Chris Sale, the diminutive Salazar simply hasn’t shown any kind of ability to maintain energy through the whole season. Management has always said that he takes too long to get ready to be a reliever, but didn’t Andrew Miller start getting ready to come in during the 3rd inning when he was around? Relievers have all the time in the world if they’re going to be working late innings. Your schedule is much more regimented than they make it seem. And honestly, wouldn’t he rather pitch than not pitch? If the pen is the only option, you’d think he’d give it his best shot.
Every little bit does help, even if that little bit is in the one place the Indians are an actual positive this year. It just doesn’t move the needle as much as, say, getting a legit second base bat would. And whether it’s Danny Salazar, middling reliever who just throws 98 with questionable control, or another top flight starter, I have to admit I’m entirely there for it. The Indians haven’t had a mind-blowing reliever in seemingly forever — even if it was just a year or so ago that Miller was at his peak - and tickling 100 out of the bullpen is something that the lizard part of my brain demands. So even if the Indians do end up like some kind of hoarder of pitching, is that really that bad? At least it will keep scores close. That’s exciting.