Salazar makes nearly flawless debut in series win
Right-hander holds Blue Jays hitless into sixth, strikes out seven
CLEVELAND -- All afternoon, Danny Salazar wound up and pitched as if this outing was like any other.
Of course, Salazar had completed the throwing motion countless times in his life. But this time, he did so over and over again during his Major League debut, a start that Salazar opened in captivating fashion, as the 23-year-old held Toronto hitless through five innings.
Although Salazar's no-hit bid and shutout hopes ended with a pair of line drives to left field in the sixth, the Indians' lineup plated a pair of runs in the bottom of the frame to keep their young talent in line for the win. The bullpen held onto the lead, and Cleveland pulled out a 4-2 victory on Thursday afternoon at Progressive Field, clinching the series.
"I've been waiting for this moment, like, seven years -- since I signed," said Salazar, who flashed a 99-mph fastball. "Once I got to the dugout and I [saw] all the guys there, I was just thinking, like, 'I've been preparing myself for this.' So I didn't have to be nervous."
"I was pleased," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "From the first pitch of the game, he had his poise. Obviously, he attacked the zone with above-average pitches across the board. When there were runners, he controlled the running game. His tempo was quick. Not fast, but he got the ball and threw strikes."
Across his first six innings in the Major Leagues, Salazar gave up just the two hits and one run. He set down seven hitters on strikes while issuing a single walk, using 89 pitches (64 strikes) in his introduction to The Show.
Dominican native Salazar said that everybody in his hometown of Cabrera was watching his performance. After signing with Cleveland as a 16-year-old, the righty had Tommy John surgery in August 2010 and missed most of 2011. This season, the organization has been cautious with its No. 8 prospect, as Thursday marked the first time all year that Salazar had pitched six innings.
"He's better than pre-surgery," said Indians vice president of player development Ross Atkins. "I think, on average, he's probably pitching two to three mph harder. But it's not just post-surgery. I think it's also strength, development, maturity, learning how to maximize his athleticism and a pitching delivery."
Offensively, the Indians supported their upstart hurler with a solo shot by Asdrubal Cabrera in the first inning, a pair of runs in the sixth and one more in the eighth. Toronto starter R.A. Dickey loaded the bases in the sixth by hitting Michael Brantley with a pitch and walking Ryan Raburn and Mark Reynolds.
With one out and the count at 0-2, Lonnie Chisenhall singled, bringing home Brantley. Toronto left fielder Rajai Davis fielded the ball and unleashed a high throw toward home plate that sailed over catcher Josh Thole, allowing Reynolds to score.
In the eighth, Cleveland scored its fourth run when Carlos Santana tripled in Drew Stubbs, pinch-running for Raburn, who had led off with a walk. Toronto right fielder Jose Bautista lost his footing on Santana's hit and the ball rolled past him.
Closer Chris Perez gave up one run in the ninth and put the tying run aboard, but he eventually managed to lock down his 11th save of the season and preserve Salazar's first career victory.
Salazar will be demoted to Triple-A Columbus after his Thursday outing, but he can't wait to return to the Majors. After Thursday, the Indians probably share a similar sentiment. They were impressed by his results, but not surprised.
"I got to see him a little bit in Spring Training," Brantley said. "I know he had some nerves. We all had nerves, at least our first time. But he handled it phenomenally."
In six innings, the Indians managed six hits and three runs (two earned) off Dickey, last season's National League Cy Young Award winner. They're now 8-4 against pitchers who have won pitching's most prestigious award. On Thursday, the knuckleballer walked three and struck out seven.
"I thought he threw a good ballgame," Toronto manager John Gibbons said. "They plated that first one in the first, and then he settled in. He was really tough. He lost the zone late a little bit late there, got some baserunners that way. But we couldn't do anything with Salazar; [that's] what it came down to."
While Dickey's start was solid, Salazar's was even better. Salazar's seven strikeouts marked the most for an Indians pitcher in his big league debut since Luis Tiant punched out 11 hitters on July 19, 1964, at Yankee Stadium. He's also the first Tribe starter to win in his Major League debut since Josh Tomlin did so on July 27, 2010.
During Thursday's game, Tomlin -- who's recovering from Tommy John surgery in August 2012 -- tweeted, "Nice job by Danny Salazar. Guy has good stuff."
Salazar began the game by fanning Jose Reyes on a changeup. After he got Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion to ground out, it was on to the second, during which Salazar struck out the side. Like Reyes, Adam Lind went down swinging at a changeup, while Colby Rasmus missed on a slider and Maicer Izturis couldn't catch up to a 97-mph heater.
A perfect game was no longer possible after Salazar issued a leadoff walk to Davis in the third inning. Davis reached second base on a steal, but he made it no further, as Salazar got Thole to strike out, Munenori Kawasaki to fly out and Reyes to ground out.
Over the next two innings, Salazar racked up two more strikeouts while keeping Toronto off the basepaths. Thole led off the sixth and fell behind, 0-2, but he hung in there against Salazar and sent the fifth pitch of the at-bat, an 89-mph fastball, into left field for a base hit. After Kawasaki bunted Thole over, he scored on Bautista's double to left.
That was all the offense Toronto could mount against Salazar, who became just the 17th starter since 1916 to keep his opponent to two hits or fewer and two runs or fewer, while recording at least seven strikeouts in his debut.
"This kid's got special stuff," Francona said. "We think this kid's got a very bright future."