CLEVELAND -- The Indians have reached the World Series with a patchwork rotation. Setbacks in September caused a chain reaction that carried over into October, forcing Cleveland to adjust on the fly throughout the American League Division Series and the AL Championship Series.
Some good news might finally be coming for the Tribe's depleted starting staff. During Friday's workout at Progressive Field, Indians manager Terry Francona said right-hander Danny Salazar is continuing to make progress in his throwing program. Not only has Salazar not been ruled out for Cleveland's World Series roster, Francona did not dismiss the idea of having the righty make a start.
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"If Danny pitches and he pitches healthy," Francona said, "and he's throwing the ball over the plate, we have a really good pitcher for however amount of innings he's built up for, which can potentially help us."
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Francona said Salazar (right forearm strain) is scheduled to throw a simulated game, along with a handful of other pitchers, this weekend at Progressive Field. If everything goes well, Salazar might be cleared to throw three innings in the workout, making him at least a viable candidate to start. Francona added that Salazar has been throwing his changeup and curveball, along with his fastball.
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During the ALCS against the Blue Jays, the Indians used Corey Kluber, Josh Tomlin, Trevor Bauer and rookie Ryan Merritt as their four starters. Only Kluber, who started Game 1, took the mound on his planned day.
Tomlin moved up to Game 2 of the ALCS after Bauer lacerated his right pinkie finger, while Merritt, who started the Game 5 clincher, was only added to the roster after Bauer's injury came up on Oct. 13. When Bauer's finger began bleeding in the first inning of his Game 3 start, forcing him out of the contest, Kluber was asked to start Game 4 on short rest.
In the ALDS against the Red Sox, Kluber was pushed back to Game 2 due to a mild quadriceps strain that flared at the end of the regular season. That made Bauer Cleveland's Game 1 starter against Boston. Tomlin started Game 3, but he only found himself in that position due to the injuries to Salazar and Carlos Carrasco (fractured right hand in September).
"One guy out of these seven games pitched on the day he was supposed to," Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. "That was Kluber the first game of [the ALCS]. Everybody else kind of pitched whenever. Like, 'Surprise! Tomlin, you're throwing tomorrow.' It's been unbelievable."
Getting Salazar back would certainly help Cleveland's chances in the Fall Classic.
In 25 regular-season starts, Salazar went 11-6 with a 3.87 ERA, piling up 161 strikeouts in 137 1/3 innings. The hard-throwing righty went 10-3 with a 2.75 ERA in the first half, earning a spot on the AL All-Star team for the first time in his career. Salazar endured a shoulder issue in June, though, and he then dealt with elbow and forearm troubles through August and September.
Salazar last started for the Indians on Sept. 9, when he exited an outing in Minnesota after four innings due to a right forearm strain. During the ALDS, he remained in Arizona to work through a throwing program. Salazar then rejoined the team in Toronto, where he logged a two-inning simulated game on Sunday. He threw more in an indoor cage (due to poor weather) at Progressive Field on Thursday.
"He let it go, which is good," Francona said. "He really let it go and threw his changeup with some arm speed. So we'll see how the next one goes."
Francona was not willing to speculate on the Tribe's upcoming roster decisions, so it is unclear if including Salazar would mean Merritt would be left out. One possibility -- given that Salazar is not fully stretched out -- would be that the Indians would carry both pitchers, keeping one as multi-inning insurance. Merritt, who worked 4 1/3 scoreless innings on Wednesday in Toronto, said he has not been told anything yet.
"I'm just here if they need me," Merritt said. "If they want me to start, I'll start. If they want me to come out of the 'pen, be a long guy, it's fine. Whatever they need me to do, I'm here."
In the first two rounds, Francona and Callaway said Salazar would only be viewed as a reliever. Francona changed his tone during Friday's session with reporters.
"I think he's ready to pitch," Francona said.