Detroit Tigers (66-45) at Cleveland Indians (62-51)
Time/Place: 7:05 p.m., Progressive Field
SB Nation blog: Let's Go Tribe
Pitching Matchup: RHP Doug Fister (10-5, 3.52 ERA) vs. RHP Danny Salazar (1-0, 1.50 ERA)
Terry Francona didn't like the way Ubaldo Jimenez has pitched against the Tigers this season, so the Indians manager decided to call up the 23 year old Salazar for a spot start. Salazar has one big league start under his belt, a win over the Toronto Blue Jays on July 11th. He allowed one run on just two hits in six innings and struck out seven. Given Jimenez's numbers against the Tigers this season -- he's 1-2 with a 6.92 ERA and 1.85 WHIP in three starts -- this is probably the right move. Jimenez will start on Friday.
Salazar has logged 99 innings this season between Double-A Akron, Triple-A Columbus, and his major league debut, so it's unlikely that he will be in the Indians rotation for the remainder of the season. The organization has reportedly placed a limit of around 120 innings on him -- he had Tommy John surgery in 2011 -- leaving some wondering if those last 21 innings are better spent shoring up a bullpen that has had trouble locking down leads.
John Sickels of Minor League Ball (and a gazillion other publications) profiled Salazar just before his big league debut and had this to say about his arsenal:
Born January 11, 1990 in Santo Domingo, DR, Salazar isn't a huge guy at 6-0, 190, but he has plenty of arm strength, clocked as high as 100 MPH and working regularly in the mid-90s. He's always had good velocity, but he came back stronger after surgery. He has a very good changeup, but the real key has been improvement of his breaking ball. This was poor early in his career (reflected in his weak strikeout rates in A-ball), but he's made great strides with it over the last year. It is variously described as a slider or power curve, but it is effective when he's on, and he's usually been on in '13.
The most impressive thing about Salazar's 2013 season is that his strikeout rate has skyrocketed. He fanned 7.8 batters per nine innings between Advanced-A Carolina and Double-A Akron in 2012, his first season after Tommy John surgery. In 2013, he has struck out a whopping 12.5 batters per nine innings at Double and Triple-A. It's tough to predict whether those strikeout numbers are here to stay, but I'd expect a fair number of Tigers to be set down swinging this evening.
I don't know what it is about the All-Star Break that morphs Doug Fister from mere mortal into a pitching demigod, but I like it. In his three starts since the break, Fister is 3-0 with a 0.82 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, and 6.50 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He hasn't exactly faced a murderer's row of opposing lineups, but those types of numbers are impressive against anyone at the big league level. He has been a ground ball machine, increasing his ground ball rate to 66.2% in those three starts. The 13.2% line drive rate probably isn't sustainable, though.
Wild card races: always a fun time if you're not in them
The last two days have seen the Indians go from a half-game lead for the second AL Wild Card slot to 1 1/2 games behind the Texas Rangers, who have won three straight games. The Indians are tied with the Baltimore Orioles and are 3 1/2 games ahead of the Kansas City Royals, who also lost last night.
Given the way the AL East has a tendency to beat up on itself, there's a good chance we see the Indians and/or Royals wrestling with the Rangers for that final slot, with the other going to the loser of the Red Sox-Rays battle atop the East. A wild card matchup between Terry Francona and his former team? It's not out of the question.
It seems that Terry Francona is betting on Salazar's unfamiliar arsenal to be an asset against the Tigers, who have seen all too much of Ubaldo Jimenez in recent years. Given the Tigers' struggles with unheralded rookie Andre Rienzo last Sunday (among others), it's a pretty solid gamble on his part. Will it pay off? It's difficult to say, but given the offense's tendency to disappear when Fister is on the mound -- they have only scored eight runs total in his last three starts -- I'd say their chances are much better than if Ubaldo were on the rubber tonight.
Salazar holds the Tigers to a Fister-like level of run support and the Tribe get one back.