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Yankee roll the dice on Danny Salazar reclamation project

The former Cleveland All-Star joined New York on a minor league deal.

American League Division Series Game Four: Cleveland Indians v. New York Yankees

The New York Yankees are in the midst of a brutal stretch of 23 games in 22 days. The back-to-back days with postponements during the series against the Texas Rangers only aggravated what was already set to be a demanding run. Between the doubleheader last Sunday against the Rangers, and the finale of a four-game set against the Tampa Bay Rays on the 29th, the Yankees won’t have a single off-day.

There was very little doubt about this ball club’s ability to hit over 162 games. The Yankees currently sit at the top of most hitting categories across all 30 teams, including second in OBP (.322), SLG (.418), and runs scored (150) entering play on Friday. However, this 24-8 record only happens with strong performances on both sides of the ball.

The offense has been good, but the pitching staff is the real story of the ‘22 Yankees, and it will be tested over the next month. The five-man rotation of Gerrit Cole, Nestor Cortes, Jordan Montgomery, Luis Severino, and Jameson Taillon has delivered. The team are getting good outings from this staff with tremendous consistency, but Aaron Boone will need others to fill in and help lighten the load over the month of May.

Luis Gil took the ball on Thursday for the opener against the White Sox, Clarke Schmidt is sure to contribute more after being recalled, and the Yankees also signed another former starter to a minor league deal: pitcher Danny Salazar.

The 32-year-old right-hander spent six seasons as a starter in Cleveland but hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since the 2019 season. The first thing to admit here is that it is a tremendous longshot that he’ll ever see the field in pinstripes, particularly with a rotation as stacked as this one and with solid backups in the likes of Schmidt, Gil, and more. Nonetheless, it’s one that was made and worth exploring.

Salazar was a pretty capable starter for Cleveland, but he has struggled with injuries throughout his career that included:

  • Shoulder issues in 2017 and 2018
  • Exploratory surgery in 2018 for the recurring shoulder problems
  • Groin issue in 2019

However, when he was available, Salazar was an integral part of Cleveland’s rotation during the mid-2010s. In 2016, he made the American League All-Star team and helped Cleveland win the pennant before coming a game shy of the franchise’s first championship since 1948.

Check out Salazar’s numbers from 2015-17:

  • 79 games (75 starts)
  • 429.1 IP
  • 3.79 ERA (117 ERA+)
  • 3.69 FIP
  • 1.25 WHIP
  • 3.69 FIP
  • 28.0 K%
  • 9.1 BB%

The bulk of Salazar’s innings came from 2015-17, as Salazar was hampered by various ailments from 2017 onward. He missed all of 2018 and pitched just four frames in a single start in 2019. He had recovered from the shoulder issues during the middle of the ‘19 season, but didn’t the have the same velocity on his heater, pitching through that groin issue. Salazar was placed on the injured list again, and that was the last time he was seen on a mound. He didn’t pitch at all in 2020 or 2021.

Salazar was always a reliable arm on the mound, and it’d be terrific to see him make a come back to the big leagues, even if it is for just a short stint with the Yankees in 2022. This rotation will need a few more spot starts before this is all said and done, and Salazar could be one of those arms to fill in at a point of need. Honestly, what would be more likely is a new home in the bullpen, as if even a couple of these pitches still have some bite, they could thrive in a different role.

This is a move that comes with virtually no risk, and there’s always a chance — even if small — that Salazar will make it. Here’s to a successful comeback for the former All-Star pitcher.