CLEVELAND -- Danny Salazar's season has ventured into enigmatic territory. The Indians starter continues to pile up strikeouts at a rapid rate, but his 2017 line has taken a hit in light of the walks allowed and home runs surrendered. It has been a perplexing stretch for Tribe pitcher.
In a 6-4 loss to the Rays on Tuesday night, Salazar found both ends of the pitching spectrum once again. He struck out nine with his overpowering mix of a high-velocity fastball and disappearing split-change. Unfortunately for Cleveland, Salazar also yielded a quartet of home runs, including two to Corey Dickerson, to sink his team's chances.
After the loss, Indians manager Terry Francona was searching for the right adjective to use.
"One is 'vexing,'" Francona said.
Through eight starts, Salazar is searching for answers.
His biggest issue before Tuesday was allowing runs in the first frame. Following his previous outing in Toronto, where Salazar allowed three more first-inning runs, the pitcher discussed potentially ditching the use of weighted balls in his throwing program. Against the Rays, Salazar was aggressive out of the gate, turning in a one-two-three first with two strikeouts.
Getting off on the right foot wasn't the problem this time. Neither was throwing strikes, considering Salazar had a 69-percent strike rate in his 90-pitch effort. No, the issue this time was the damage done on the six hits he relinquished in his five innings. Four were home runs, and each pitch found a hot zone for Colby Rasmus (solo shot in the second), Derek Norris (solo shot in the third) and Dickerson (solos in the third and fifth).
"I missed spots with all of them," Salazar said. "The way I feel right now, it doesn't matter what I do out there. They looked so comfortable against me today. The first inning, it was like, 'I got this.' But then after that, they got too comfortable. They're a really aggressive team."
On the season, Salazar has a 5.66 ERA in 41 1/3 innings, while averaging 13.5 strikeouts per nine innings. The hard-throwing righty has a 33.2-percent strikeout rate, but that is off-set by his 10.7-percent walk rate and the two home runs he is allowing per nine innings.
The home run to Rasmus came on a four-seamer middle-in. According to Statcast™, the Rays outfielder had a .750 slugging percentage on four-seamers to that area of the strike zone off righties over the 2015-17 seasons, entering Tuesday. Norris' homer came on an elevated slider over the middle. He had turned in a .741 slugging percentage on that pitch to that zone over the past three years.
The same was found in both Dickerson blasts. The first was a four-seamer middle-in, which had resulted in a .750 slugging percentage off righties over the '15-17 campaigns. The next home run was a two-seamer down, but over the middle. Dickerson had slugged 1.167 against right-handed versions of that pitch to that zone over the last three years.
"When he missed, he missed," Francona said. "I thought he was better tonight. I really do [think so]. I thought he came out of the gate and tried to find his stuff early. It's just, when he made a mistake, he really paid for it."