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Closing Time: What’s wrong with Danny Salazar?

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Chaos in Cleveland (USAT)

If you're a fan of young, buzzy pitching prospects, the 2014 draft board had plenty of names to take aim at. Gerrit Cole was on an island somewhat (carrying an industry rank of 21), but opinions were clustered with the next four sophomores of note: Michael Wacha (No. 29), Danny Salazar (No. 32), Sonny Gray (No. 34) and Tony Cingrani (No. 38). Which trendy picks wound up on your club?

[Baseball 2014 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Still time for another league!]

Salazar is clearly the lagger of the group as we look through the opening couple of weeks, a slump no one saw coming. He had an uneven 5.2-inning stint against Minnesota to open the year, and he's allowed 10 runs over his last two starts (including Thursday's mess at Detroit). Add it all up and there are crooked numbers everywhere: 14 IP, 19 H, 12 R, 4 HR, 8 BB, 7.71 ERA, 1.93 WHIP. The league is batting .345 against Salazar.

Of course, there have been positive flashes – he's struck out 17 men in 14 innings. There aren't any easy answers here. Take your best guess, what's wrong with Danny Salazar?

Outlier ratios come with outlier luck stats, you know that up front. No one should be surprised to see a .405 BABIP flashing. Salazar's xFIP checks in at 4.30, significantly lower than his out-the-door ERA. He's not going to allow home runs on 20 percent of fly balls all season; no one can do that.

Control and command are part of the story: Salazar's collected six unintentional walks over his 14 innings, and too many of his pitches have been left in unintended spots (Jeff Sullivan of Fangraphs did an excellent breakdown of Salazar's downright bizarre second turn). And then there's the matter of his fastball velocity: Salazar's heater averaged 96.2 mph last year but it's down to 93.8 this April. Some lagging velocity is common for pitchers in the opening month, and there's also radar gun variance from park to park, but this is enough of a gap to be concerned. Maybe Salazar's pitching through discomfort, or a full-fledged injury?

Salazar gets two friendly turns next week: he's hosting Kansas City on Tuesday (the worst power team in the majors), then travels to San Francisco on the weekend (big park, NL baseball). Even with the radar gun letting us down, I'd stick with Salazar for another 1-2 turns before making any kind of adjustment. Assuming he's not hurt, the velocity is going to nudge upwards. And that 10-strikeout video from the Chicago game is hard to get out of your mind. Give him some time to figure it out.

Things were rolling along merrily for Sergio Santos owners the first couple of weeks. He collected four quick handshakes while Casey Janssen missed time, and Janssen even hit a setback Thursday. Maybe Santos can take this job and run with it.

And then Santos went all Ricky Vaughn on us Thursday. Santos walked all three batters he faced against Minnesota, along with three wild pitches. Only four of his 16 pitches found the strike zone. Is Vaughn even the right comparison here? Steve Blass, anyone? Nuke Laloosh?

If Santos can regain his release point fairly soon, the rest of the profile looks fine. He's struck out 11 men over 5.1 innings and he walked a reasonable three batters over his first six appearances. The Janssen news buys him some time, and Toronto doesn't have another obvious challenger to the ninth-inning throne. I'm going to give Santos the benefit of the doubt until he hits another rough patch.

Maybe it's safe to restore Joe Nathan to set-and-forget status. A dead arm issue ruined his first couple of weeks, with a rock bottom moment at Chavez Ravine on April 9 (three runs, one rocket of a homer from Adrian Gonzalez, two walks). The Tigers gave their closer plenty of rest following that mess, and Nathan's been on point in his two most recent appearances (two scoreless innings, 1 H, 2 K). Although he needed 18 pitches to put away the Indians on Thursday, 11 of them were strikes and the Tribe didn't get anything started. Nathan wasn't worried about his dead arm issues earlier in the month, so let's take him at his word. Back in the saddle.

If you're going to be hung up on batting average, Brian Dozier isn't for you. He batted a pedestrian .244 last year, and he's off to a .207 start this season. But let's focus on what Dozier can do: he gets on base (13 walks, .356 OBP) and he provides plenty of category juice (23 homers, 19 steals over his last 162 games; 5 & 5 this season). The Twins like him in the leadoff spot and they're letting him run when he wants. Dozier is long-gone in the more-competitive leagues, but that 57-percent ownership tag remains light. The shallow pool kids need to get to work here.

Chris Colabello is having a ball in the middle of the Minnesota lineup, taking advantage of the OBP options in front of him. Colabello already has 19 RBIs through 15 games, rocking a nifty .357/.410/.571 line. He's certainly not a prospect at age 30 and he didn't impress in last year's 55-game trial with Minnesota, but we do have to consider how he tore up Triple-A in 2013 (.352/.427/.639, 24 homers in 89 games). Late bloomer in Bloomington? Soda Pop is available in 58 percent of Yahoo leagues.

Speed Round: After seeing Koji Uehara set down the White Sox on 13 pitches (one walk, one punch out), you can probably dump your Edward Mujica hedge shares. A shame Chris Sale had to take a no-decision after his seven brilliant innings (1 H, 1 R, 3 BB, 10 K) . . . George Springer is off to a 2-for-9 start in Houston, with four strikeouts. He's also been caught stealing once . . . Pedro Alvarez is off to an 11-for-59 start, but six of his hits are home runs. He's also stolen two bags in three attempts, and he's on pace for a career high in walks (sometimes that's good, sometimes that's bad) . . . The buzz died down on Kevin Kouzmanoff a while back, but let's note the work he's doing as Adrian Beltre's understudy in Texas (12-for-29, five doubles, one homer). The Rangers are home through the weekend (ah, keg-tapping Arlington), so consider a short-term rental. We love ya, Kouz! He's got a job while Beltre rehabs, and he's ready to add for 95 percent of Yahooligans . . . Kyle Gibson has rattled off three straight wins (0.93 ERA, 1.09 WHIP), but it's mostly been smoke and mirrors (nine walks against 10 strikeouts). Sure, a ground-ball clip around 58 percent is a big help, but eventually you need to miss a bat or two. If you're a believer, he pitches at Tampa Bay next week . . . I've taken plenty of CC Sabathia shots over the month, so let's be fair and tip the cap for his work under the catwalk (7 IP, 7 H, 2 R, 1 ER, 2 BB, 6 K). Sabathia had a triple-play to bail him out of one mess, but he was entitled to some luck after his first three turns. I don't trust him at Boston next week, but you already knew that . . . Carlos Santana is dealing with a groin injury, which might explain a 1-for-27 slump.

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