CLEVELAND — Though he is expected to be optioned back to Triple-A Columbus today, it’s a safe bet Indians fans haven’t seen the last of Danny Salazar.
The 23-year-old right-hander from the Dominican Republic got his first opportunity on the major league level in his debut Thursday afternoon at Progressive Field.
He made it count.
“That’s a major league pitcher,” said manager Terry Francona after watching Salazar contribute mightily in a 4-2 win over Toronto that wrapped up the series. “He just needs to get the innings and get away from the Tommy John (surgery) and build up strength. That can be what he is. This kid has got special stuff. We think this kid has a very bright future.”
The Indians have been cautious with Salazar, who is working his way back from reconstructive elbow surgery at the end of the 2010 season. He’s been on a pitch count since the start of the year, going a combined 5-5 with a 3.08 ERA in 17 starts (76 innings) for Columbus and Double-A Akron. Thursday was the first time this season Salazar has worked six innings in an outing.
Longer starts will follow for Salazar should he remain healthy and able to build arm strength. He’s confident that more of them will take place on the big league level.
“It’s their decision (to send me down), but I know in the future (the Indians are) going to call for me to pitch,” Salazar said.
Up and down
As expected, right-hander Preston Guilmet was optioned back to Columbus on Thursday to clear a roster spot for Salazar.
Guilmet, 25, made his big league debut Wednesday night in a pressure-packed situation, entering the game in relief of Justin Masterson with two on and two out and the Indians trailing Toronto 2-1 in the seventh inning.
Guilmet struck out Munenori Kawasaki to end the inning, then retired Blue Jays leadoff hitter Jose Reyes to start the eighth before calling it a night.
The University of Arizona product, a ninth-round draft pick in 2009, is 2-4 with a 2.32 ERA in 34 appearances for Columbus and has converted 16 of his 20 save opportunities.
The Indians play their final series before the All-Star break, hosting Kansas City in a three-game set that begins tonight at 7:05.
Corey Kluber (6-5, 4.23 ERA) opens the series opposing LHP Bruce Chen (3-0, 2.41), while Scott Kazmir (4-4, 4.74) goes for Cleveland on Saturday (7:05 p.m.) against RHP Jeremy Guthrie (8-6, 4.12).
Ubaldo Jimenez (7-4, 4.37) starts the series finale Sunday (1:05 p.m.), while the Royals counter with RHP James Shields (4-6, 3.12).
Francona doesn’t want to see his club ease into the break.
“It doesn’t wind down. It comes to a crashing halt,” he said. “You go 100 miles an hour and then you take a break. You don’t wind into it, so that’s what we need to do.”
Class A Carolina second baseman Joey Wendle hit his 12th home run of the season in a 15-8 win over Lynchburg on Wednesday. Wendle, a sixth-round draft pick last year, entered Thursday batting .324 with a team-leading 42 RBIs in 58 games.
• Cleveland’s first-round draft pick (5th overall), outfielder Clint Frazier, is off to a robust start to his professional career. He entered Thursday batting .375 (15-for-40) with a homer and 13 RBIs in 11 games for the Arizona League Indians.
The Indians are 15-11-5 in 31 series this season (10-5-1 at Progressive Field).
• Director David Mickey Evans, who co-wrote the film “The Sandlot,” was in attendance to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the movie. He threw out the ceremonial first pitch.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @CAwesomeheimer.