Danny Salazar on His Repertoire (It’s Not a Split)

Danny Salazar has a fastball that averages nearly 95 mph and one of the best changeups in the game. Given that lethal combination, it’s no surprise that he’s striking out over 11 batters per nine innings and has a 2.32 ERA. In his age-26 season, the Indians right-hander is continuing his ascent into most-overpowering-pitchers territory.

Signed by Cleveland out of the Dominican Republic in 2006, Salazar began emerging as a top-shelf prospect after returning from Tommy John surgery in 2011. Two years later, he was in the big leagues with a heater that touched triple digits. Last season, he logged career highs in wins (14), innings pitched (185) and strikeouts (195).

Salazar talked about his repertoire, which includes a changeup with a unique grip — no, it’s not a splitter — when the Indians visited Fenway Park earlier this month.

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Salazar on why he’s emerged as a front-line pitcher: “I think it’s learning. Every time I go outside, every time I watch a game, I’m paying attention. I’m seeing how guys attack hitters. That’s helping me to become a better pitcher.

“You learn about yourself and you learn about hitters. My best pitch is a fastball, but I know that if I’m just throwing fastball, fastball, they’re going to do damage to me. I have to use my secondary stuff, too. I’m learning more about myself and more about the other teams and how to attack them.”

On being a power pitcher: “I do (consider myself a power pitcher). I know that my fastball is tough to hit, and I know it’s even better when I’m mixing in my other pitches. It’s mostly a four-seam fastball, but sometimes I mix in my two-seam fastball.

“Depending on the count, I like to go up with my four-seam. When I’m ahead in the count, like a 1-2 count, I try to go a little up to see if I can get a swing and miss or a pop-up fly ball. But you have to work down. That’s my main goal: getting ahead in the count, throwing pitches down for strikes. Once you’ve established your fastball low in the zone, they’re seeing your breaking ball as a fastball, and it might even be in the dirt. That’s because it came from the same angle.”

On his elite changeup: “This guy taught it to me when I was really young, back in the Dominican Republic. It was a random guy I met during a Little League game. He told me that grip one day. He was like, ‘That’s a curveball change.’ I was like, ‘What is that?’

“I grip it with my middle fingers together in the spot where you throw a two-seam fastball. Then I have these two fingers apart, around the ball, and the other one in back. It’s not a split. The grip has been the same since I was maybe eight years old.

“In the beginning, it didn’t move at all. But throwing it more and more, and moving my wrist a little different at the end, I finally got a spot where I can throw it and it will move a lot.

“I started moving my wrist a little different, pronating it. That was after Tommy John surgery. After that, I wasn’t afraid to throw it. I knew it wouldn’t be as easy for me to get hurt again. Before the surgery, I tried a few times and my elbow was getting a little sore, so I stopped throwing it that way.”

On his curveball and his slider: “My curveball… I used to throw a curveball when I first signed with the Indians. Then I got tendonitis in my shoulder, for like six months. After that I wasn’t able to throw any of my breaking pitches. They were just flat, like a fastball. So I had to choose between a curveball and a slider — I had to focus on developing one pitch — and I chose my slider.

“Two years ago in spring training, I was throwing (a curveball) in the bullpen. Mickey Callaway, our pitching coach, saw me throwing it and said, ‘Hey, you should use that in a game.’

“Last year I was struggling a little bit with it, but this year it’s getting better. Every time I go out there I’m getting better at it. I get more confidence to throw it. I still throw more sliders, though. The curveball is just for three or four pitches a game.”

On his childhood allegiances: “I grew up liking the Red Sox. In the Dominican, we only had two teams you would follow when I was a kid, the Yankees and the Red Sox. Every time they played each other, there was no one in the street. Everyone was at home watching that game.

“The Yankees used to win every single year. That gets boring and you want to see a change. I got to see that — the Red Sox started being the ones winning. Now the Indians are my team, and we will win, too.”





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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phoenix2042
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phoenix2042

Awesome interview! I love hearing pitchers talking about their own pitches. We spend so much time pouring over velocity, movement, zone rates, swing rates, pitch values, etc. that we sometimes forget to think about the thoughts of the man who actually throws it. Plus Salazar is awesome!