So, to review:
An Indians pitcher, whose $4.5 million salary is $4 million more than Shane Bieber’s, was activated off the injured list, pitched in a major league game for the first time in two years, threw 66 pitches, and, 24 hours later, went back on the injured list.
So much for Danny Salazar picking up some of the post-Trevor Bauer slack.
For the often-talked-about-but-rarely seen Salazar, this was the breaking of new even more confounding ground. When his bizarre start Thursday against Houston was mercifully terminated by acting manager Brad Mills after four farcical innings, the consensus was an unequivocal “What was THAT?”
After spending two years on sort of a pitching sabbatical — rumors that he had become a registered voter in Goodyear, Ariz., were both erroneous and hilarious — the artist formerly known as “when’s his next rehab start?” made a cameo appearance against the take-no-prisoners Astros.
By “cameo” we mean Salazar’s first start since Sept. 27, 2017, when his Indians teammates included Boone Logan, Michael Martinez and Abe Almonte. In other words, it had been a while, and now, apparently, it’s going to be a while before we again see the phantom of the desert on a pitcher’s mound near you.
What was THAT? Indeed.
That wasn’t pitching. That was the theater of the absurd.
That was Danny Salazar, former fireballer for hire, lobbing beach balls toward the plate, to disbelieving Houston hitters, some of whom nearly left their feet trying to clobber one to Coshocton. George Springer almost did. Springer hit Salazar’s third pitch of the game, an 84-mph floater, 418 feet into the left-field bleachers.
It only got worse from there. Salazar’s first start in two years lasted 66 pitches, none of which, had it hit a batter, would have left a bruise. In the third inning, facing Martin Maldonado and Springer, Salazar threw six consecutive pitches that clocked in at 78, 77, 77, 79, 78 and 79 mph.
The good news is that Salazar held his velocity well. The bad news is his velocity was 20 mph below where it should be.
Salazar turned the fourth inning into another salute to the ’70s, throwing five consecutive pitches to Yuli Gurriel that discoed to the plate at a leisurely 79, 79, 76, 78 and 79 mph. All that was missing were the Village People.
Friday the Indians placed Salazar back on the injured list, his home away from home, with a mild groin strain. It’s the sixth time in the last five years, the second time this season, Salazar has been placed on the injured list.
This is the first time, in a regular-season game, that his velocity has ventured into sub-Josh Tomlin territory. Normally Salazar’s money pitch sets up shop in the mid-to-high 90s, sometimes even approaching triple digits.
Thursday night he had no fastball. He threw nothing harder than 88, and he only threw that once.
“His velocity was down,” said Mills following the game. “In his rehab starts his velocity kept climbing. Obviously, that didn’t happen tonight. His health is something we’re concerned about when we see that.”
Salazar said his plunging velocity was caused by a sore groin, but he was vague about when that happened. Mills said the first time Salazar mentioned the groin was in the fourth inning.
As always with Salazar, his status runs the gamut — from foggy to murky.
“It’s hard to pinpoint a lot of things, and exactly when he started feeling it,” manager Terry Francona said prior to Friday’s game, but after the Indians put Salazar back on the injured list. “It’s disappointing. We’ll get to the bottom of it and move on.”
Moving on seems like the best plan of all.
Over the last two years, in exchange for the $9.5 million the Indians have paid him, Salazar has delivered a total of four innings, 66 pitches, ranging from 70 to 88 mph, and, apparently, a mild groin strain.
At this point it’s hard to see where Salazar fits, if at all, in the Indians’ future. He’s been a two-year tease for which the team never seems to receive the payoff for its patience — and he’s no longer a kid.
In addition to being out of velocity, Salazar, who will turn 30 in January, is out of minor league options. The only way the Indians can send him to the minors now is if he passes through waivers unclaimed by another team. Or they could put him on the injured list, which they have, and while there he could be sent to the minors on an injury rehab.
The Indians have used that wash-and-repeat approach ad nauseum over the last two years, and it’s gotten them nowhere. Maybe it’s time to subtract the nauseam.
Because how much longer can the Indians continue to wait for the return of the career that might have been?