CLEVELAND — Striking out Tampa Bay Rays hitters wasn’t a problem for Indians right-hander Danny Salazar on Tuesday night at Progressive Field. Keeping them in the ballpark proved much more difficult.
Salazar, who is among the American League leaders in strikeouts, fanned nine, but he allowed a career-high four home runs as the Rays slugged their way to a 6-4 victory that evened the series at a game apiece.
After striking out four of the first five batters, Salazar surrendered the first of his four solo shots to Colby Rasmus in the second inning. He allowed back-to-back homers to Derek Norris and Corey Dickerson to start the third, then allowed another leadoff homer to Dickerson in the fifth.
“Let me give you a couple adjectives, one’s vexing,” manager Terry Francona said of Salazar’s outing. “He has good enough stuff to punch out nine. He gives up six hits and four of them are home runs. When he missed, he missed. I thought he was better tonight, I really did. I thought he came out of the gate, trying to find his stuff early. It’s just, when he made a mistake, he really paid for it.”
Salazar said he missed his location on all of the homers.
“It is frustrating,” he said. “I’ve been struggling. Today I was able to bring the ball down a little bit, but still things just aren’t working the way I want them to, I’m expecting them to.
“When you’re on the mound, you need to have confidence in your stuff. And sometimes when they start hitting it, I’m losing that confidence in myself and my stuff. That may be why I’m struggling a little bit.”
The big strikeout and homer totals have been a common theme in Salazar’s start to the season. He has struck out nine or more batters in four of his eight outings, but has allowed a team-high nine homers over 41 1/3 innings after surrendering 16 in 25 starts last year (137 1/3 innings).
“You look at his numbers, hits-to-innings and stuff, and it doesn’t quite add up to the (5.66) ERA,” Francona said. “He’s paid a price. Tonight, he threw more strikes, which is good. That’s a step in the right direction.”
“Right now I’m trying to stay positive and not trying to let that get into my head,” Salazar said. “I’m working hard. I think I’m doing right now what I need to do every day. Things are just not working the way I want them to work, but I’ll get there.”
Tampa Bay’s homer barrage didn’t end once Salazar left the mound, with the Rays going deep on a two-run shot from Tim Beckham off Shawn Armstrong in the sixth that put Cleveland in a 6-1 hole.
The five homers were a season high for both teams.
The Indians used the long ball to climb back into the game with a two-run homer from struggling designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion that left them trailing 6-4 in the sixth.
Encarnacion had two of Cleveland’s eight hits, leading off the ninth with a single that brought the tying run to the plate.
“I thought early on he stayed on a pitch and hit it to right. I thought that was a good sign,” Francona said. “Even his last at-bat, getting jammed but staying through it enough to put it through the hole over there. I think he deserves a couple of those. It’s good for him, good for us.”
It was a big league debut to forget for Bradley Zimmer, Cleveland’s top prospect who was promoted from Triple-A Columbus prior to the game and started in center field. He struck out three times in three trips to the plate.
At 24, Zimmer is the youngest Indians outfielder to make his big league debut since Michael Brantley made his in 2009 at the age of 22.