As had seemed increasingly likely in recent days, the Indians have officially added righty Danny Salazar to their World Series roster. MLB.com’s Jordan Bastian was among those to report yesterday that Salazar would finally be able to return from a forearm strain.
Though his return to action isn’t quite as dramatic as the activation of Cubs slugger Kyle Schwarber, Salazar is arguably an even more important addition. Cleveland has somehow managed to burn through the postseason despite immense rotation uncertainty, but that figures to be put to its greatest test by the powerful Cubs on the game’s biggest stage. As with Schwarber, there’s added risk since neither player can be replaced on their teams’ respective rosters if they suffer a recurrence or aggravation of their preexisting injuries.
Salazar will take over Cody Anderson’s place for the final series of the season. His role isn’t clear, and may well end up being dependent upon the team’s needs. Manager Terry Francona has largely eschewed typical starter/pen usage over the playoffs, with the exception of staff ace Corey Kluber, as the team has found creative ways to deal with the absences of Salazar and Carlos Carrasco as well as the bloody pinky finger of Trevor Bauer.
Unless a need for multiple innings arises earlier in the series, it seems that Salazar may line up to throw in Game 4. Whether or not he’d start probably isn’t terribly important, as he’d likely piggyback with lefty Ryan Merritt (or simply hand off to the bullpen) regardless, but handing him the ball to open a game may leave the team with the type of flexibility needed to get the most out of him while limiting his exposure (both to arm stress and the Cubs’ lineup). As Bastian explains, Salazar looked good recently in a three-inning sim game, probably leaving him able to work up to 65 or 70 pitches. That’s not going to be enough to get very deep, especially for a strikeout pitcher who averaged only about five-and-a-half innings per start in 2016.
While it remains to be seen just what the Indians can get from their talented 26-year-old, his presence conveys some real upside to the Cleveland staff. Salazar didn’t quite follow up on his stellar 2015 season, with newfound walk issues driving his earned run average up to a still-useful 3.87 in 2016. But Salazar can dominate when he’s on, and still managed to deliver 10.6 K/9 with a mid-nineties heater and devastating change-up that could play up in a more limited capacity.