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Salazar returning to midseason form

Special to MLB.com

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Cactus League season isn't even to its midpoint, but starting pitcher Danny Salazar was in midseason form as he faced the Royals for four innings Saturday.

Salazar shut down Kansas City, striking out six while allowing just two hits and a walk, as the Indians won 7-6. He'd come into the contest with eight walks in 6 1/3 innings over three previous appearances, but his game was notably elevated Saturday.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Cactus League season isn't even to its midpoint, but starting pitcher Danny Salazar was in midseason form as he faced the Royals for four innings Saturday.

Salazar shut down Kansas City, striking out six while allowing just two hits and a walk, as the Indians won 7-6. He'd come into the contest with eight walks in 6 1/3 innings over three previous appearances, but his game was notably elevated Saturday.

"I threw a few curveballs for strikes, they swung at a few of my sliders, and my changeup," Salazar said of his offspeed pitches. "Having the fastball there like it was today, that's the key to throwing those pitches down."

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Manager Terry Francona agreed, showing excitement at the prospect of Salazar being able to hold onto that kind of command and elevate his game as a result.

"When you're commanding the fastball like that, it sets up everything else," Francona said. "You're starting to see repletion. Some guys are inconsistent with their command, where some days it's here and some days it's not. Obviously, the more he can command, the more success he's going to have. He's found ways to still put up really good numbers when he's falling behind or climbing back into a count. If he works ahead, he's really going to take off."

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Salazar set the tone for a pitchers' duel in the desert, with the score at 1-0 after six full innings. The offense took over in the late innings, leading to an Indians' victory capped by a go-ahead grand slam from prospect Francisco Mejia.

"Right now, I'm working on tempo and command," Salazar said. "The first few games I was taking too long between pitches. Today, I was just going to the mound and attacking."

Salazar had a strong 2016 season, going 11-6 with a 3.87 ERA, though some late season arm trouble kept him to just 25 starts when he was shut down in September, and ultimately returned to pitch in the World Series. He is healthy this spring, and relished the opportunity to spend the offseason building strength instead of rehabbing injuries.

"I felt amazing today," Salazar said. "It was kind of weird in the beginning. Everything was there, my body felt great, but I didn't feel that push inside me like I normally do. In the last two innings it was there."

If his pitching was in midseason form, his confidence was in postseason form, especially when it came to his expectations for the rotation.

"I'm telling you, if we stay healthy all of us, we can do amazing things," a beaming Salazar said. "I'm going to keep saying it -- we have the best rotation in baseball."

Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com and covered the Indians on Saturday.

Cleveland Indians, Danny Salazar