CLEVELAND — If, as expected, it was just one spot start and back to the minors for right-hander Danny Salazar, he has left a lasting impression.
Promoted from Triple-A Columbus to start the series finale with Toronto on Thursday afternoon, Salazar offered up a brilliant major league debut, helping the Indians to a 4-2 win at Progressive Field.
Salazar, 23, took a no-hitter into the sixth inning, allowing just a run on two hits, while striking out seven batters. It was the first six-inning effort of the season for Salazar, whose seven strikeouts were the most by a Cleveland pitcher making his big league debut since Luis Tiant fanned 11 in 1964.
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“From the first pitch of the game, he had poise,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said of the Dominican Republic native, whose walk to Rajai Davis in the third, accounted for the only Blue Jays baserunner over the first five innings. “Obviously, he attacked the zone with above-average pitches across the board. It was about as exciting a day organization-wise as you can get. He was terrific.”
On a pitch count as he cautiously progresses from Tommy John surgery at the end of the 2010 season, Salazar resembled a hard-throwing veteran big league starter. His fastball sat at 96-98 mph, topping out at 99 on a handful of occasions.
On the big stage for the first time in his career, Salazar showed nerves of steel against a Blue Jays team that entered the day ranked second in the majors with 112 home runs.
“I’ve been waiting for this moment for seven years since I signed,” said Salazar, who joined the Indians organization as an undrafted free-agent acquisition in 2006. “I prepared myself for this, so I didn’t have time to be nervous.”
“He’s got a phenomenal arm, and he came in today and challenged a lot of people,” Cleveland left fielder Michael Brantley said. “He’s always been like that, real composed. He handles his business and does what he needs to do.
“I know he had some nerves. We all have nerves our first time, but he handled it phenomenally.”
All’s well that ends well for Salazar, who was in jeopardy of leaving without a decision when he allowed a game-tying two-out single to Jose Bautista in the sixth.
But Salazar’s teammates picked him up, scoring twice off Blue Jays starter and defending National League Cy Young Award winner, R.A. Dickey in the bottom of the inning.
The Indians beat Dickey, a right-handed knuckleballer, for the second time in two starts against them. Cleveland also turned back Dickey and the Blue Jays in the season opener, April 2, at the Rogers Centre.
The Indians looked as though they would make quick work of Dickey, with five hits off him — including a two-out solo home run from Asdrubal Cabrera — over the first two innings.
But they scored just once over the span, with Dickey (8-10, 4.69) settling in to retire nine of the next 10 hitters before hitting Brantley with a pitch to start the sixth inning.
Cleveland loaded the bases with one out in the sixth before Lonnie Chisenhall came through with a soft liner to left-center that scored two — one on a throwing error from Davis in left.
“We just knew we had to keep the pressure on him,” Brantley said of Dickey, who allowed two earned runs on six hits, walking three and striking out seven.
The Indians, who trail first-place Detroit by 2½ games in the Central Division standings, added a run in the eighth when Bautista slipped in right field while attempting to catch a fly ball from Carlos Santana that made it to the wall for a triple.
Up by three runs, Cleveland turned it over to closer Chris Perez, who allowed a run on two hits and a walk after retiring the first two batters he faced in the ninth. The right-hander converted his fifth straight save since leaving the disabled list.