Game 20: Kansas City 8, Cleveland 2
Like a couple of his previous outings, Danny Salazar got through the first couple of innings unscathed. And although the Royals rallied in the fourth, in looked like Danny might get out of that inning as well, as after allowing the first two runners to reach, he got Alex Gordon to pop out and struck out Salvador Perez. But then he hung a changeup, and the entire game changed. That hung changeup was lined into the right field seats by Mike Moustakas, and what was a 1-0 lead turned into a 3-1 deficit just like that. The Royals would tack on another run before Salazar got the third out of the inning.
The middle inning struggles has been a trend of late for Salazar, who has hit a proverbial wall the second and third times through a lineup. The team he faced tonight was one of the lighter-hitting clubs in the AL, but by the time he left in the fifth he had allowed five runs (four earned) on seven hits. He's still striking batters out (he whiffed six tonight) but too often this season opposing batters are making hard contact as well. I don't think Salazar is in immediate danger of losing his spot in the rotation (if Trevor Bauer does replace somebody, it would be Carlos Carrasco), but tonight's outing only deepens the concern you have for the Tribe's rotation. Earlier this week the Indians pared their bullpen down to seven when they optioned out Blake Wood. The move allowed them to activate Jason Giambi, creating a four-man bench. A seven man bullpen is the norm nowadays, but it seems every other comment manager Terry Francona makes is about how he's concerned for the workload that's being placed on the relievers. And that workload is the direct cause of the rotation, for short outings like the one Salazar had tonight has a cumulative effect on the bullpen, whether it be in short-term or long-term effectiveness. Tonight Francona had to use the front end of the bullpen (Josh Outman, C.C. Lee, Scott Atchison) in the hopes that Justin Masterson and Corey Kluber will go deep into their starts.
The pitching matchup didn't favor the Indians to begin with, as they were facing James Shields, one of the best pitchers in the game today. And although Shields wasn't quite at the top of his game, he was more than good enough to shut down the offense. The Indians got an early run off him in the second when Michael Bourn singled with the bases loaded, but they only managed one more run the rest of the evening. Shields left the game after the sixth inning having struck out the side twice in the row (with the caveat that the Indians worked a walk and got two hits in those innings). Six innings is a short outing by Shields' standards, but the Kansas City bullpen was up to the task, holding the Indians scoreless over the last three innings.
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