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Danny Salazar, Corey Kluber nearing returns

The deep Indians rotation is going to get a lot deeper down the stretch

Cleveland Indians Photo Day Photo by Rob Tringali/Getty Images

It’s a phrase I never thought I’d get to use again, but Danny Salazar is scheduled to start for the Indians this week.

According to beat writer Many Bell, the Indians’ estranged gunslinger is slated to start on Thursday as a “modified opener” throwing as many as 70 pitches with Adam Plutko as a safety net if things go south.

It’s been a tumultuous two years for Salazar, who last pitched in the majors in September 2017 before an elbow injury followed by setback after setback had many wondering if he’d ever pitch in an Indians uniform again.

It was especially a surprise that the Indians tenured him a one-year, $4.5 million deal this offseason in the midst of slashing costs around the roster, considering the uncertainty of Salazar’s future. But here we are, mere days away from his return. If he can be any kind of positive contribution to the rotation as they battle with the Twins for the AL Central down the stretch — not to mention the postseason — it’s money well spent.

Salazar has been rehabbing with various minor league clubs since June 30. In that time he’s pitched 17.1 innings with five earned runs, five walks, and 28 strikeouts. Most recently he pitched four one-hit innings in Columbus and struck out five of the 15 batters he faced. Concerns about his velocity may be real, but his change-up is so good that it might not matter if he can’t hit 97 anymore. Everyone on the outside won’t really know until we see him in front of a major league radar gun and tracking systems.

After a 22-month absence from the majors, Salazar will be dropped feet first into the fire Thursday facing the Houston Astros, who lead the league in team wRC+ (120), are second slugging percentage (.477), and have the second-lowest strikeout rate (18.5%) as a unit.

To make room for Salazar, the Indians will need to clear a spot off the 40-man roster. The most obvious candidate is one of their 7,000 relievers.

As for Corey Kluber, the news isn’t quite as immediate, but the former Cy Young winner will be pitching in simulated game on Saturday and could be starting his own minor league rehab assignment shortly after.

Kluber hasn’t pitched since May 1 when a comebacker against the Miami Marlins broke his forearm on his pitching side. Most recently Kluber threw a 45-pitch bullpen session last Saturday.