If everything goes right in the next seven weeks, he feels he should be able to throw a couple of innings by the end of spring training.
For the Indians, who have a string of question marks in the bullpen and a need for a hard thrower in the late innings to pave the way for closer Brad Hand, that would be a good thing. But when was the last time everything has gone right for Salazar?
Salazar wears a tiny gold hand grenade on a chain around his neck. Looking at his career over the last few years, it’s as if someone has pulled the pin on that grenade one too many times.
But the fact that Tuesday was the first day of spring training for the Indians, and the possibility of Salazar helping them at a position in need was still a viable proposition, spoke much of the talent he once showed. It was same talent that convinced the Indians to ignore a winter of payroll trimming and sign Salazar to a one-year, $4.5 million deal.
Salazar didn’t pitch at all last season. Instead he spent most of the year working on his sore right shoulder. He arrived in Goodyear in January, played long toss, threw bullpen sessions and batting practice, but never felt confident to throw hard. When Salazar made his big-league debut in 2013, he threw in the high 90s, frequently hitting 100 mph.
MRIs, cortisone shots and a PRP (Platelet Rich Plasma) injection followed.
“Nothing worked,” said Salazar.
Finally, surgery was the only option. Dr. Keith Meister performed an arthroscopic debridement and bursectomy on Salazar’s right shoulder on July 2 in Dallas. The season that never started for Salazar was over. He returned to Goodyear, where he’s pretty much been since January of 2018.
He went home to the Dominican Republic for Christmas and New Year’s, and a few times after that, but basically, it’s been all Goodyear all the time.
“I’ve eaten at every restaurant in Goodyear and Phoenix,” Salazar said.
As for his right shoulder, well, some days it feels good and some days not so good.
“It’s a really slow process,” said Salazar. “One day you feel really good. The next day your feel a little soreness here and there. But the guys in the training room have done a good job keeping me going in the right direction.”
Salazar has been playing catch, but has yet to throw off the mound. In January, manager Terry Francona said he would not be ready by opening day. Whether those plans will change is uncertain.
“We are taking it day by day and week by week,” Salazar said. “It’s a slow process. One day I can come in and it feels amazing. The next day I’m sore. We want to make sure I’m 100 percent before I throw off the mound.”
The Indians open the season on March 28 at Target Field against the Twins in Minneapolis.
Salazar, whose career has been in a long skid since he made the All-Star Game in 2016, says he’s felt better over the last few weeks. That has allowed him to think about what could happen if everything went right.
“These past few weeks I’ve been making more progress,” he said. “That’s why in my head I’m positive and hopefully at the end of spring training I’ll be able to throw one or two innings. If not, I know the month after that I’ll be throwing off the mound.”
Salazar has always been a starter for the Indians. But the rotation is one of the few positions on the team unfazed by ownership’s order to cut payroll. Salazar at present is in no condition to replace Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, Mike Clevinger or Shane Bieber. If he does make it back, it will be the bullpen or nothing.
“I can adjust and do my job in the bullpen,” said Salazar, who has made two relief appearances in the big leagues. “If I’m healthy, I’ll give it my 100 percent.”
Where did everybody go?
The Indians as of Tuesday had 60 players scheduled to be in big-league camp — 40 on the roster and 20 invitees. Of those 60, only 23 were in big-league camp with the Indians last season.
Of the 22 pitchers on the 40-man, only 11 are holdovers. Two of the three catchers are back from last year’s opening of spring training, as are six of the eight infielders. In the outfield only three players who opened spring training last year are among the seven outfielders on the 40-man.
Among the 20 non-roster invitees, Brandon Barnes is the only holdover.
The Indians are building a dormitory for their minor-league players. It’s located across the street from the team’s training facility in Goodyear and could be ready in time for extended spring training.