April 20, 2014

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Not in Akron anymore: Danny Salazar grabs the spotlight, start in Indians’ wild-card game game

Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Danny Salazar delivers against the Chicago White Sox Sept. 25. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Danny Salazar delivers against the Chicago White Sox Sept. 25. The rookie will start in Wednesday’s American League wild-card game. (AP Photo/Tony Dejak)

MINNEAPOLIS — Danny Salazar began the season pitching at Double-A Akron.

Wednesday night, the rookie right-hander will be on the mound to start the American League wild-card game.

Indians manager Terry Francona announced after a memorable regular-season finale that he would hand the ball to the fireballing phenom from the Dominican Republic for Cleveland’s first postseason game since 2007.

“He was next in line and he’s pitching great,” Francona said of Salazar, who joined the Indians’ rotation late in the season and went 2-3 with a 3.12 ERA in his first 10 outings on the big league level.

It’s a big-time start for an inexperienced pitcher, but the Indians have plenty of faith in Salazar, who has performed well above his age of 23.

“He’ll be fine,” pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. “That’s one thing we’ve seen from him the whole time. He’s been relaxed, composed. That Detroit game (Aug. 7) kind of said it all, the way he pitched there. He’s going to do the same thing on Wednesday, I feel.”

Salazar, in just his second pro start, went 7⅔ with 10 strikeouts in a no-decision against the Tigers.

Salazar said he got the news Friday that he would be making the biggest start of his young career. He was told he would pitch a potential tiebreaker game today or the wild-card game Wednesday, whichever came first.

“They trust me and that made me feel confident,” Salazar said. “I know I have to go out there and give my best. I’m just going to go out and do my job.”

Unlike his first few outings, Salazar will not be on a pitch count. Francona recently removed the limitations on the young gun, who underwent Tommy John surgery in 2010.

“That was very important,” Salazar said. “When I was in a pitching count, every pitch I made I was watching the scoreboard to see how many pitches I had.

Now that I’m not in a pitching count, I’m more comfortable.

“They were thinking about the future. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

Salazar is far from a seasoned product, but the Indians are confident he has enough tools to build them a postseason victory.

“I think he’s learning as he goes. He’s not a finished product,” Francona said. “The finished product is going to be special. But, he’s comfortable on the mound. We wouldn’t run him out there if we didn’t think he could handle it.”

Salazar said he won’t be nervous.

“Once I step on the mound, I feel like this is a normal game for me,” Salazar said. “This is the majors but it’s the same for me. Every time I’m out there I don’t think about who’s hitting. I just think about me and what pitch I’m going to throw.”

The Indians are hoping that approach leads to another memorable outing.

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @CAwesomeheimer.