In 1997, rookie phenom Jaret Wright started one of the biggest games in Cleveland Indians history and maybe the most important game of those magical 1990s teams.
Tonight, Danny Salazar will start the Indians most important game of the 2013 season and definitely the biggest game at Progressive Field since Game 5 of the 2007 ALCS (back when it was still Jacobs Field).
If you’ve been paying attention to this point you know that both Wright and Salazar started their seasons on the mound at Canal Park with the AA Akron Aeros.
That should be where the comparison’s to the two pitchers end. With all due respect to how Wright battled through a 10 year career mostly injured and how he captivated northeast Ohio with his confident and sometimes cocky attitude in 1997, Salazar is better in his rookie year and we all hope, a more successful 10 year career too.
While Wright boasted a mid-90s fastball too and a pretty good slider, Salazar and Wright couldn’t be more different.
There’s no Matt Williams, Jim Thome, David Justice or Manny Ramirez in the Indians 2013 lineup. Wright did pitch in the middle of the steroid era, but his ERA his rookie year was 4.38. In nine of Wright’s 16 starts he received six or more runs worth of support from those potent Indians offenses. Just one time did the Indians score two or less with Clyde Wright’s son on the bump.
In Salazar’s 10 starts the Indians have scored six runs one time. They scored 3-5 runs five times and two runs or less four times. Salazar’s park adjusted ERA is 121 meanwhile Wright’s was a slightly above average 107 (100 is about league average),
Wright made his debut about two years and two weeks younger than Salazar, though that could have been because of Salazar’s elbow reconstruction surgery and the Indians be careful with his workload thereafter.
Both offered a plus fastball and a good slider, but Salazar’s 11.3 K/9 and 2.9 B/9 blows away Wright’s 6.3 K/9 and 3.5 B/9 in their rookie years.
They may have followed similar paths, but at least in his rookie years, Salazar is far superior to Wright.
Personally, I’ve always felt the one decision Mike Hargrove blew as his reign as Manager of the Indians was starting Wright in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series. He lasted just three innings in his lone ALCS start vs. Baltimore when he allowed five runs. While Wright pitched well in that game and well in his two World Series starts, he brought Charles Nagy out of the bullpen in that inevitable heartbreaking extra inning game. Through the tears I remembered the ball just poking over Nagy’s glove off the bat of Edgar Renteria and couldn’t help but remember that Nagy was a slow starter; typically a pitcher who settled in after the first inning or two, not strong out of the gate. Wright out of the bullpen might have been a better option.
Enough of the most depressing recant of my life.
Salazar is about as cool and confident as they come. Talking to him in the playoffs with Akron in 2012 when they won the Eastern League title, he was humble and just happy to have the opportunity to do something big for his team.
Wright could be confident yet brash at times. Salazar is a man of few words and extremely humble. His demeanor suits him well for that of a back end bullpen type pitcher, which belies him to handle the pressure of tonight very well.
Seeing Salazar for the first time in 2010 after his promotion from Carolina to Akron, all I knew was that the Indians had put him on the 40 man roster after he had Tommy John surgery (talk about confidence in his arm!). I heard from some friends and through the minor league grapevine that he had a triple digit fastball and he made it look easy.
And he does. His delivery is compact, smooth and effortless. For only being six feet and 190lbs, he puts very little strain on his arm to reach back for a 100 mile an hour fastball. I had always felt that Salazar’s body type probably suits him best as a back end reliever because pitchers his size typically have trouble staying healthy throwing 190-200 innings a season. While it’s too soon to predict, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how his stuff has allowed him to hold up over 150 innings this season.
Everyone knew about Salazar’s fastball and a very solid changeup. What I didn’t count on was his slider developing much better at the major league level. He’s thrown 100 sliders and hitters are hitting just .240 against it in his 10 starts. Salazar’s BABIP this season is .298, right around the league average, so luck hasn’t been much of a factor when hitters are putting balls in play. The development of a potential third above average offering makes Salazar a promising candidate to stay in the rotation, when I only saw his fastball and changeup carrying him eventually to a set up or closers role.
The Rays as a team hit a team worst .233 vs. power pitchers as opposed to .267 vs. finesse guys. Teams are hitting at a .220 clip off Salazar’s fastball and a slightly lucky .270 BABIP against the heater.
Righties hit .237 off of Salazar and he neutralizes he lefties with the changeup and holds them at a .216 clip.
The Rays hit .256 vs. righties and as you can see, loading the lineup with lefties won’t help them either. (Their everyday lineup normally features five right handers and one switch hitter)
The key for Salazar will be how he’s handled by Francona. The Indians said he’d have no pitch restrictions, which he said made him worry more during his previous starts. Salazar has been effective through the first two trips through lineups this year (.333 BA against 3rd time through). The fourth time through the order the Rays are hitting .308 vs. pitchers.
It will be interesting to see who Francona chooses as his catcher. Salazar had Roberto Perez catching him in 2012 at Akron, someone most consider a very strong defensive backstop. Logic and most of our eyes tell us Yan Gomes is the best defensive catcher on this roster and also strengthens the lineup when he’s in there.
Surprisingly Carlos Santana has a lower catchers ERA with Salazar. (1.53 in four games as opposed to 3.93 with Gomes in six games). Catchers ERA doesn’t tell the whole story and Gomes did have Salazar for more innings. One would think Santana won’t DH because if something happens to Gomes, the Indians would lose the DH.
The good news is too, that Salazar is 2-0 at home in four starts with a 3.13 ERA. Wright had a 7.20 ERA at Jacobs Field in 1997 despite a 3-2 record.
This time around, Terry Francona made the right choice, not the Wright choice. Danny Salazar, the rookie sensation has Justin Masterson behind him in the bullpen (that injury could be a blessing in disguise now if he becomes a guy they can use two innings every other game). Nagy might have been the better choice in 1997 to start in Game 7 and having Wright follow. This time the combination of youth then experience in tonight’s feel like Game 7, Wild Card game vs. the Rays, seems like the right call.