CLEVELAND — Right-hander Danny Salazar was the toast of the town in Cleveland last year. Now, he’s just toast.
For the fourth time in as many starts, Salazar offered up a brief and ineffective outing, leading to an 8-2 loss to the Royals at Progressive Field on Tuesday night.
In four starts this season, the 24-year-old Salazar, who enjoyed a breakout end of the year in 2013, is 0-3 with a 7.85 ERA.
“I don’t always want to put it on youth, because this is a kid we gave the ball to in the (wild-card) playoff game (last year), but I do think with health and experience he’s going to learn how to do this better,” manager Terry Francona said. “I think right now he’s having a tough time and he’s getting tested a little bit. I think we all believe in not only him but everybody in there. We’ll figure it out.”
As has been the case in a couple of his outings, Salazar started strong. He didn’t allow a hit over the first three innings, retiring nine of the first 11 he faced — four on strikeouts.
But the second time through the Kansas City order proved fatal for Salazar, who allowed four runs in the fourth inning — three on a two-out home run to Mike Moustakas.
The Royals added another run in the fifth off Salazar on consecutive doubles from Eric Hosmer and Moustakas to go up 5-1.
“Every pitcher has to make adjustments as you go through the order,” Francona said. “Danny has the weapons to go through a lineup multiple times. It’s more executing pitches.
“We can’t forget last year when he was pitching he was on a pretty strict limit for health reasons. So now he’s starting to get stretched out a little bit. It’s been a while since he’s done that. He’s never done it at the major-league level, so sometimes you have to be patient.”
Salazar was asked if he might be tipping his pitches.
“Kind of,” he said. “Maybe I’m doing something obvious, too, so they know what pitch I am going to throw. I am feeling great and strong. Compared to last time, I felt like every pitch I was totally focused and being aggressive.
“This is tough. You just have to learn the little things and keep your head up.”
Cleveland generated little offense off KC starter James Shields, who allowed two runs (one earned) on six hits, while striking out nine over six innings.
The Indians scored once off the right-hander on a two-out single from Michael Bourn in the second inning, then again in the sixth on a two-out double from Yan Gomes.
“Unfortunately, he’s pretty much the same every time you see him,” Francona said of Shields, who improved to 2-2 with a 1.91 ERA. “He pounds the strike zone, very difficult to run on. He can cut his fastball. He can throw it into lefties. He can change speeds off of it, and he competes. That’s why he’s one of the best.”
Cleveland has struggled with runners in scoring position all season. The Indians have scored four runs or fewer in six of their last eight games.
“Some of that has to do with the opposing pitchers making pitches when they need to,” Francona said. “I do think our at-bats are getting better. We need to string them more together, that’s kind of stating the obvious, but those pitchers they had out there were pretty good.”
Bourn, Gomes, Nick Swisher and Michael Brantley each had two hits, accounting for eight of the Indians’ nine hits.
“We’re trying to get on that rhythm,” Swisher said. “This team can get super hot. Sometimes we can get super cold. I think if we just keep going out there and battling the way that we know how, scrapping and fighting for every pitch, every run, we just have to get back to that.
“It hasn’t exactly been the start that we wanted as a team. But it’s still early in the season and we’re going to keep grinding, I know that.”
The loss came in front of a season-low crowd of 8,848, which is 122 fans shy of the all-time low at the park, set April 3, 2011, against the White Sox.