The Cincinnati Reds have recently had a carousel of pitchers coming up from Triple-A due to injuries and some ineffectiveness. That movement, along with his start to the year in Double-A Chattanooga led to Eduardo Salazar being promoted up to join the Louisville Bats last week.
A former starting pitcher, Salazar is in the bullpen full time this year and the results have been outstanding. He pitched in nine games for the Lookouts and allowed one run while giving up nine hits and walking just two batters in 13.2 innings. He also struck out 22 batters out of the 54 that he faced.
In his debut in Triple-A he only faced one batter. Last night he pitched two innings, didn’t give up a run, and he struck out three. That lowered his ERA on the season to 0.57. And he’s now struck out 25 batters with just two walks. Opponents are 12-60 (.200) without an extra-base hit against him on the season. He has been equally dominant against left-handed hitters and right-handed hitters.
On top of Eduardo Salazar racking up tons of strikeouts, he’s also racking up tons of ground balls in the case where the batter does make contact. This season he’s had a ground ball rate of 63%. That’s the highest rate of his career by a wide margin. But there’s probably a reason for that, too.
While we don’t have public data from Trackman or Hawkeye for the minor leagues going back far, or at all for some levels and players, being in the pressbox can be useful for gathering some data from these systems. I checked my notes on Eduardo Salazar and a few years ago he was throwing a very different fastball than he’s throwing today. When he was in Dayton his fastball was a 4-seamer that had an above-average spin rate. While we’ve only got 2.1 innings worth of Hawkeye data on Salazar from his time in Louisville it’s very clear that he does not throw that pitch anymore.
Today Salazar is throwing a sinker, and it’s got a lot of sink on it. The spin rate, as far as fastballs go, is very low. But that’s the point, too. The reason that a sinker sinks is because of the low spin rate. It’s the same reason that a 4-seamer “rises” – it’s got a higher spin rate (and why true high-spin rate fastballs lead to more swings-and-misses – they move more than the batter expects them to based on all fastballs).
The fastball isn’t the only pitch that’s changed/been scrapped since then, either. He used to throw a curveball in the mid-to-upper 70’s. That pitch hasn’t shown up in Louisville. What has, though, is a mid-80’s slider (if you are peaking in at the Gameday stuff, they are calling this a cutter, but the movement is a little more slider-like than cutter-like, though the two pitches can often blend because they move very similarly for a lot of guys). That pitch didn’t exist for him a few years ago.
Development usually isn’t linear. And for Eduardo Salazar that’s quite true. Starter to reliever. Remaking his pitch arsenal. Some success and failure along the way.
Where he’s at right now, and what he’s doing right now is very intriguing. When you look at the quick numbers on his stuff, it doesn’t jump out at you. He’s throwing 93-95 MPH with his fastball. His slider and change up are working in the mid-to-upper 80’s. But if you dive in a little deeper you can see that the fastball is moving a lot, and doing so on both planes.
There aren’t a lot of guys throwing sinkers who pile up strikeouts. But when you find guys who can miss bats who also get tons of ground balls, you tend to find guys who are very, very good pitchers. Right now that’s what you’re getting from Eduardo Salazar. Double-A and Triple-A are not the big leagues. Hitters up there are better. They chase less often, they make more contact when they swing, and they hit the ball harder.
If Salazar keeps pitching remotely close to how he’s pitched so far this season, we won’t have to wait too much longer to see if what he’s doing can carry over to the big leagues. Cincinnati’s desperate for pitching. And while he’s not on the 40-man roster right now, they can make room if they want to.