September 16, 2014

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Indians: First start a good start for Danny Salazar

Cleveland Indians pitcher Danny Salazar throws during spring training baseball practice in Goodyear, Ariz. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Cleveland Indians pitcher Danny Salazar throws during spring training baseball practice in Goodyear, Ariz. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

MESA, Ariz. — The Indians played an exhibition game against Chicago at brand new Cubs Park, but all eyes were on a Goodyear practice field Friday morning.

That’s where phenom Danny Salazar pitched for the first time under game conditions. The right-hander, who had been limited to bullpen sessions since arriving at training camp, threw 21 pitches to minor league hitters and looked good doing so, according to those in attendance that mattered.

“I thought it was good, very encouraging,” pitching coach Mickey Callaway said. “That’s where we want him. We want him to ease into what he’s got going on right now. He should be ready for a real game now.”

The Indians announced shortly after the simulated game that Salazar would make his exhibition debut Tuesday in Scotsdale, Ariz., against the Diamondbacks.

“I thought Danny looked really good. He’s free and easy,” manager Terry Francona said. “You take into consideration that the guy’s throwing at 10:15 in the morning, but I thought he threw all his pitches and I thought he looked strong.

“That was a good first step, or good middle step. He’ll pitch in a game in a couple days, but I think he’s doing well.”

Salazar faced six hitters, allowing a hit and striking out three. Of the three strikeouts, two of them came on swings at sliders. Salazar worked on strengthening his slider to complement his top-shelf fastball this offseason, and he and the Indians have been pleased with the results.

“Slider, change-up are there,” Callaway said. “Obviously, fastball command’s the main concern this early in spring. Once he gets out there, a little more extended innings, we’ll get to see exactly where he is with that.”

Salazar’s bread-and-butter fastball topped out at 95-96 mph, sitting at around 93 mph on average, according to Callaway.

“That’s pretty good for the first time out — in a B Game,” Callaway said.

Cleveland has handled its projected star with caution since he underwent reconstructive right elbow surgery in 2010. He logged a career-high 145 innings last year between Double-A Akron, Triple-A Columbus and Cleveland during a breakthrough season for the young Dominican.

Closer John Axford also pitched in the simulated game, preceding Salazar to the mound. The right-hander struggled with his control, walking two and allowing a run and didn’t appear pleased as he walked off the field.

Axford faced first-round draft choice (fifth overall) Clint Frazier and walked him on four pitches.

Surprisingly enough, it was 16-year-old Willy Castro who got the lone hit off Salazar, banging a sharp grounder past the mound and into center field. Castro was signed last August for $850,000.

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com.