On Wednesday, Indians pitchers and catchers reported to Goodyear, Ariz., for spring training.
On Thursday, the Indians announced Danny Salazar was injured.
It’s what he does, and he doesn’t waste any time doing it.
When healthy, which he isn’t very often, but when healthy, Salazar can be one of the most dominating pitchers in the major leagues. That’s not opinion. That’s fact.
Last year, between his usual trips onto and off the disabled list, Salazar averaged an Indians franchise-record 12.67 strikeouts per nine innings (minimum: 100 innings pitched), the highest in the majors for any pitcher not named Chris Sale.
The Indians’ career record for most strikeouts per nine innings (minimum 500 innings pitched)?
That would be Salazar again, at 10.51.
Corey Kluber (9.90) is second, Herb Score (9.34) third and Sam McDowell (9.21) fourth.
When healthy, Salazar is capable of not just winning games, but completely dominating opposing teams. In a start against the White Sox on April 10, 2014, Salazar became the only pitcher in major league history to strike out 10 batters in less than four innings.
On Aug. 7, 2013, in his second major league start, against Detroit, Salazar faced Miguel Cabrera, who would win his second consecutive MVP Award that year. Salazar struck out Cabrera the first three times he faced him.
Those are the kind of things Salazar can do … when healthy.
The problem, of course, is he’s rarely healthy.
He’s not so much an iron horse as a porcelain pony. Indians officials can only roll with the punches, but it seems fair to wonder whether the Indians would have won a World Series in the last two years but for the perplexing Salazar quandary.
In the greatest strikeout era of the sport, the Indians have an elite strikeout pitcher, who has been totally useless to them in the postseason. In 2016 and 2017 the Indians played 20 postseason games — and Salazar didn’t start any of them.
Imagine slotting peak Salazar somewhere in a postseason rotation of Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer.
Instead, imagine Salazar starting the 2018 season on the disabled list, which seems to be where he’s headed, because that’s where he always seems to be headed.
This time it’s right shoulder/rotator cuff inflammation. If he starts this season on the DL, it will be the fourth time in three years he’s been on the DL, and it’s always his arm, which is more than a little concerning.
Salazar, who had Tommy John surgery in 2010, went on the DL in 2016 with a sore elbow. In 2017 he went on the DL twice, first with a sore shoulder, then with a sore elbow. Now he has another sore shoulder.
“The thing we’re focused on right now,” Indians president Chris Antonetti said to reporters, “is just making sure that Danny’s ready to contribute for the bulk of the season. If that’s Opening Day, great. If it’s later than that, that’s fine. I think what we want to make sure we do is take the long view and try to get the most out of Danny for the bulk of the season.”
Here’s what Antonetti didn’t say: “This is getting old.”
Salazar’s innings pitched have declined in each of the last three seasons: from 185 in 2015 to 137 in 2016 to 103 last season. At 27 he should be entering the prime of his career. Instead, you wonder if there will ever be a prime of his career.
As the injuries continue to mount, not only is Salazar of little use to the Indians, but he’s also untradeable. His name came up during some offseason trade rumors, but that was clearly a case of opposing teams trying to buy low on Salazar.
However, the last thing Indians officials should do now is give up on waiting for him to get and stay healthy. If they did, if they traded Salazar, and he suddenly had a healthy, All-Star season for another team, somebody would have some explaining to do.
There’s virtue in patience. But there’s also frustration.
Coming off his All-Star 2016 season, when he went 11-6 with a 3.87 ERA, Salazar could have brought back significant value to the Indians in a trade. Today? No chance.
It’s unfortunate for the Indians, because they are operating from a position of strength. They seemed to be the only team in the majors that didn’t spend the winter trying to add starting pitching.
The Indians have a surplus of what everyone else needs, but what might be the biggest trade chip in that surplus can’t stay healthy, which reduces its value, and makes pushing it to the center of the table bad business.
So the Indians are where they are.
Waiting for Salazar.
Maybe they’ll eventually be rewarded. Maybe they won’t. But it’s never a bad idea to wait for great pitching.