GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Josh Tomlin's eyes peered over the top of his glove. Mike Clevinger's long locks were flying after each fastball. Corey Kluber fired pitches to the beat of his internal metronome. During the first official round of bullpen sessions for the Indians this spring, though, one arm was noticeably absent.
Danny Salazar did not throw off the mound during the first Spring Training workout for Cleveland's pitchers and catchers Thursday, and it is unclear when the right-hander will take that step. The Indians announced that Salazar -- competing for one of the two openings in the rotation -- is "a couple weeks" behind the rest of the pitchers in camp due to a right shoulder issue.
"Normally, the first day, the first team workout, I throw a bullpen out there," Salazar said. "So, it was kind of different, a little bit frustrating, too."
Salazar felt discomfort in his shoulder while working through his offseason throwing program in mid-January and alerted the team. The pitcher was examined, diagnosed with inflammation in his right rotator cuff and shut down from throwing at that time. Salazar has returned to throwing -- he is scheduled to play catch up to a distance of 75 feet Friday -- but his timetable for return is uncertain.
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That creates an early snag for the Tribe's spring rotation battle. While Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer are virtual locks for the top three spots, the thought going into camp was that Salazar would be up against Tomlin and Clevinger for the final two jobs. Lefty Ryan Merritt, who is out of Minor League options, is next in line on the depth chart, too.
Asked if Salazar was expected to be recovered and ready in time for the start of the regular season, Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti was non-committal.
"We're not sure," he said. "I think the thing we're focused on right now is just making sure that Danny's ready to contribute for the bulk of the season the way we all know he's capable of. And if that's Opening Day, great. If it's later than that, that's fine. I think what we want to make sure we do is take the long view and try to get the most out of Danny for the bulk of the season."
Salazar sounded more optimistic after Thursday's workout concluded.
"I'm feeling better," Salazar said. "I'm playing catch. I know soon I'll be fine and I'll be throwing in games here in Spring Training."
The Indians are all too familiar with these kinds of setbacks with their hard-throwing right-hander.
Last season, Salazar was sidelined from June 4-July 21 due to a right shoulder problem and then from Aug. 21-Sept. 4 due to right elbow troubles. One year ealier, Salazar stormed out of the gates and made the American League All-Star team before right forearm, elbow and shoulder setbacks crippled his second half. Dating back to the start of July 2016, Salazar has turned in a 5.20 ERA and 1.48 WHIP in 147 innings.
The injury woes limited Salazar to 103 innings last year, but the righty posted 12.7 strikeouts per nine innings when he was on the mound. That rate ranked second only to Chris Sale (12.9) in the Majors among pitchers with at least 100 innings logged. Overall, Salazar went 5-6 with a 4.28 ERA and 145 strikeouts against 44 walks.
Carl Willis, Cleveland's new pitching coach, said the depth of the rotation can help when setbacks like this arise.
"Our organization has done a good job," Willis said. "Obviously, Danny can be a special pitcher and we're looking forward to when he can resurface in the rotation, but to have that depth at the outset is huge."