The Indians will activate right-hander Danny Salazar from the 60-day injured list prior to Thursday’s contest, manager Terry Francona announced to reporters (Twitter link via Mandy Bell of MLB.com). Salazar, who is currently stretched out to about 70 pitches, will start that game and be followed by righty Adam Plutko if necessary. Cleveland will need to make a 40-man roster move to open a spot for Salazar.
Thursday will mark the first time Salazar has set foot on a big league mound in nearly two years. The talent possessed by the oft-injured righty is obvious, but shoulder troubles that ultimately necessitated surgery have put his career on hold for nearly 24 months. Salazar posted mixed results in that 2017 season, logging a pedestrian 4.28 ERA but averaging 12.7 K/9 in that 2017 season. From 2015-16, he notched a 3.63 ERA with 9.9 K/9 against 3.3 BB/9 in 322 1/3 innings.
Now 29 years old, Salazar returns to the Cleveland pitching staff as an x-factor. He long stood out as a potential top-of-the-rotation arm with the Indians, as many believed him just an adjustment or two away from elevating his performance to another tier. At the same time, given that he’s dealt with shoulder and elbow troubles dating back to the 2016 season, it’d be unrealistic to expect that Salazar simply bounces right back to form and locks down a spot in the Cleveland rotation. While such an outcome is a best-case scenario, banking on him doing so is rather ambitious after such a lengthy injury absence. There’s been prior talk of using Salazar in the bullpen as well, and that could eventually emerge as an option the organization chooses to explore.
The Indians have trimmed the Twins’ lead in the division back to two games, though Cleveland faces an imposing stretch on the schedule beginning tonight. They’re set to begin a three-game set against the Astros before moving onto series against the Angels, Rangers, Twins, Red Sox and Yankees in succession.
Salazar’s return comes at a pivotal time for the Indians, as they’ve reportedly been mulling trade offers for Trevor Bauer even as they climb back into the AL Central race. As the Indians determine precisely which course to chart with regard to Bauer, they’ll also be closely monitoring the status of two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber. Out for two-plus months due to a forearm fracture, Kluber is set to throw a simulated game this weekend (Twitter link via Ryan Lewis of the Akron Beacon-Journal). He could then progress to pitching in an actual game setting, though that next step will be dependent on how he feels following this weekend’s session.