Inbox: Salazar's return coming at right time?

Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers questions from Indians fans

July 20th, 2017

The timing of 's return to the rotation seems to serve two purposes for the Tribe. First, the team can get a look at him again against Major League hitters again and gauge his progress. Next, Salazar will be able to start twice before the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline, allowing the Indians time to explore their potential need for another starting pitcher.

If Salazar looks sharp, healthy and confident again, the right-hander might be better -- acquisition cost and other factors considered -- than anything Cleveland could acquire via trade. Targeting someone like A's pitcher makes a lot of sense, but maybe the Indians' rotation can be solidified by Salazar's return and Mike Clevinger's emergence.

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Josh Tomlin and have had their ups and downs, but both have shown signs of progress in stretches over the past two months. So if Cleveland weighs all these elements and determines that the rotation isn't the most glaring need, maybe it can turn its attention to trading for a hitter. Along those lines,'s Jon Paul Morosi reported earlier this week that the Indians were in "serious" talks with Detroit about J.D. Martinez before the slugger was shipped to the D-backs.

Both manager Terry Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway said that the Indians might run with a six-man rotation this week. So if one of the starters does find his way into the bullpen, it does not sound like it will happen immediately. This also gives the team time to not only help get over his current neck issue, but evaluate the arms a little longer before making that kind of decision. And, of course, the big unknown is how the Trade Deadline might impact the situation.

It certainly didn't help that the Indians entered the second half without (right hamstring) and (right calf). The impact is not just about their individual numbers (Kipnis was struggling at the plate, for example), but their absence altered the makeup of the lineup. And, sure, that contributed to the offense looking "flat" in the 1-5 trip through Oakland and San Francisco.

The area that's really glaring is the production with runners in scoring position. On the six-game trip, the issues continued with an 8-for-54 showing with RISP. Consider that Cleveland ranks third in the American League in OPS with the bases empty (.761), sixth with runners on (.770) and 11th with RISP (.704). Whether the lineup is helped via trade or not, that area needs to be improved.

I am very disappointed with the decision to keep playing during close games. My question is: Has anyone looked at the statistics of Shaw pitching in close games? If so, why is he still being played after how many losses he has caused?

-- Cassandra H.

Shaw has had a tough month (four earned runs in 4 1/3 innings), but he remains a durable, above-average reliever. Using Fangraphs' leverage splits, only 6 1/3 of his 43 1/3 innings on the season have come in high-leverage situations. His weighted on-base average (.474) is much higher than the MLB average (.311), but that's a small sample. For his career, Shaw has a .302 wOBA in high-leverage situations.

He has been above average in low-leverage (.235 wOBA, compared to .318 for MLB) and medium-leverage (.308 wOBA, compared to .325 for MLB) situations this year. Both of those marks are, however, higher than his career rates in low- (.288) and medium-leverage (.289) situations. and will continue to get the bulk of the high-leverage work, but don't expect Francona to stop using Shaw.

was optioned to Triple-A Columbus on Monday because the Indians needed to add an insurance arm to help the bullpen. One day earlier, Bauer's abbreviated outing in Oakland taxed the relief corps. It was a move made out of necessity, and Naquin "caught the unfortunate shrapnel," as Francona phrased it. Naquin would be required to remain in the Minors for a minimum of 10 days, unless he is promoted due to an injury at the Major League level.

Command is often the last hurdle for pitchers who are coming back from Tommy John surgery. So while Aiken's walk rate (71 through 95 innings at Class A Lake County) has been alarming, it's something that has happened to plenty of players in his situation. Justin Garza, who was also taken by the Indians in the 2015 MLB Draft, is on a similar path back from TJ surgery, and he was averaging 5.2 walks per nine through 17 games with Lake County.

"We're definitely seeing that with him," Ruben Niebla, the Indians' Minor League pitching coordinator, said of Aiken. "He gets caught at times where he's trying to do a little bit too much and we try to get him back on track, and with a clear message that we have a path, a process with him, and we want to make sure we are taking it one step at a time. ... He's done an exceptional job handling some of the trials that he's gone through, and he's only going to get better for the experiences that he's going through this year."