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Salazar hoping patience with injury pays off

Pitcher frustrated but understands need for conservative rehab on shoulder
MLB.com @MLBastian

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The hum of an occasional plane using Goodyear Airport, which sits just beyond the eastern edge of the Indians' complex, usually fills the air in the mornings at Cleveland's camp. On Sunday, there was another sound disrupting the calm before the team's daily workout.

On a half-diamond behind the row of bullpen mounds, Danny Salazar went through his delivery, firing a weighted ball into a large green pad, which in turn shook the chain-link fence from which it hung. The thump and subsequent rattle repeated over and over, while Salazar's teammates began to trickle out of the facility. By the time their work was starting, the pitcher's solitary throwing session was complete.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The hum of an occasional plane using Goodyear Airport, which sits just beyond the eastern edge of the Indians' complex, usually fills the air in the mornings at Cleveland's camp. On Sunday, there was another sound disrupting the calm before the team's daily workout.

On a half-diamond behind the row of bullpen mounds, Danny Salazar went through his delivery, firing a weighted ball into a large green pad, which in turn shook the chain-link fence from which it hung. The thump and subsequent rattle repeated over and over, while Salazar's teammates began to trickle out of the facility. By the time their work was starting, the pitcher's solitary throwing session was complete.

Spring Training information

"It's frustrating," Salazar said. "It's the middle of Spring Training. I should be throwing four innings in a game right now. It's a little bit different, but I'm not the only guy that's been through this. I just have to take it day by day and get better."

Opening Day is less than three weeks away, but instead of closing in on a roster spot, Salazar is facing a trip to the disabled list when Spring Training ends. That has become all too familiar for Salazar, who thought he took the proper steps over the winter to avoid injuries, only to have his electric right arm defy him once again. The shoulder soreness Salazar experienced in January has delayed returning to the mound, though that step could be coming soon.

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During Saturday morning's workout, Salazar worked through a long-toss session and built up to throwing at 120 feet. The pitcher will keep stretching things out over the next few days in an effort to build up the strength in his shoulder, which he does not feel is quite yet at 100 percent. Then Salazar can begin thinking about taking the mound for a bullpen session -- a step the rest of the starters completed several weeks ago now.

Given the uncertainty surrounding Salazar's timetable, the Indians are planning on heading into the year with Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger and Josh Tomlin in the rotation. Lefty Ryan Merritt, who started Sunday in a 3-1 split-squad victory over the Royals, is the next arm in line, if any issues arise in the coming weeks.

Salazar was last on a mound Oct. 9, when he logged 1 2/3 innings out of the bullpen for Cleveland in Game 4 of the American League Division Series against the Yankees. He had not yet reached the mound portion of his throwing program over the offseason when he felt discomfort in his shoulder and alerted the Indians' medical staff.

"They're so close," said Salazar, motioning to the row of mounds that were over his shoulder Sunday morning. "I'm getting there. I'm close."

Video: CLE@NYY Gm4: Salazar strikes out Judge looking

Injuries have been an unfortunate theme throughout Salazar's career.

When Salazar was in the Minor Leagues, he underwent Tommy John surgery on his right elbow in 2010. In 2016, Salazar was brilliant out of the chute for Cleveland and earned a spot on the AL All-Star team. Elbow, forearm and shoulder woes then plagued him in the second half, and Salazar was not available as a starter for the team's postseason run to the World Series. Last year, elbow and shoulder problems limited him to 103 innings in the big leagues.

Salazar has gained a reputation for being injury-prone and he knows Indians fans have surely reached a point where they question whether he is reliable.

"The fans, so far, they have been great," Salazar said. "They judge a little bit, but I would say the same thing. I want to be playing every day. I don't want to be on the DL. But it's hard when you have something and you try to play through it. Even if you know it's not right, you want to try to help the team, but you only do damage to the team and damage to you."

Over the winter, Salazar only spent four days in his native Dominican Republic in November. The pitcher was either training in the Cleveland area or in Florida, adhering to a more controlled throwing program provided by the Indians. In previous offseasons, Salazar did more improvising in his workouts on his own in the D.R. Even with those steps taken, soreness still crept into his arm.

Salazar said his rehab program might seem extremely conservative, but the pitcher said it was "the right pace" for him at the moment. In each of the past two years, health troubles have taken Salazar out of the equation for the rotation come playoff time. This time, the pitcher wants to take the appropriate steps now in order to be available for a potential run to the World Series in the fall.

"Learning these things now, just taking care of my shoulder more, I think it's going to help for the season," Salazar said. "I'd rather have maybe the first month off of the season than the last month. That's been the issue the last few years."

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.

Cleveland Indians, Danny Salazar