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Behind the Box Score: Danny Salazar's struggles

The home run ball came back to haunt Danny Salazar as he gave up a career-high four home runs in his third consecutive start lasting five or fewer innings.

CLEVELAND – An unusual tentativeness to throw the fastball is a concern for Danny Salazar and the injury-riddled front end of the Indians starting rotation.

Entering play on Tuesday, the right-handed hurler had a 55.0% (94.9-mph) usage rate on his fastball, a mark well below his 69.1% career average. He also is mixing in his changeup at a 33.8% (86.5-mph) clip, a mark well above his 19.5% career average.

This drastic change in pitch selection may have something to do with Salazar’s inability to locate his bread-and-butter offering as shown by his career-high four solo home runs allowed in a 6-4 defeat to the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night at Progressive Field.

Corey Dickerson (twice), Colby Rasmus and Derek Norris leveled the quartet of bombs over the outfield wall, three of which were deemed “barreled balls” by Baseball Savant.

To go along with his strange line – 5+ IP, 6 H, 5 R/ER, 2 BB, 9 K – Salazar maintained a similar usage rate of both his fastball and changeup, proving his unwillingness to throw the pitch he has always trusted throughout his 2.162 years of MLB service time.

Confidence appears to be an issue…

“When you’re on the mound, you need to have confidence in your stuff,” said Salazar after his outing. “When they start hitting it, that’s when I’m losing that confidence in myself or my stuff. I think that might be why I’m struggling right now a little bit.”

His tendency to lean on the changeup and avoid the fastball was evident once more as it spelled the end to the Tribe's two-game winning streak.

Four-seam/two-seam fastballs (49/90 pitches, 54.4% usage, 5 swinging strikes, 3 called strikes, 8 batted balls in play)

*Average velocity: 95.5-mph

*Minimum velocity: 93.8-mph

*Maximum velocity: 97.3-mph

*Average exit velocity: 86.2-mph

*Minimum exit velocity: 72.8-mph

*Maximum exit velocity: 106.9-mph

*Based on sample size of 39 four-seam fastballs (43.2% usage)

Changeup (25/90 pitches, 27.8% usage, 7 swinging strikes, 1 called strike, 2 batted balls in play)

Average velocity: 86.6-mph

Minimum velocity: 84.7-mph

Maximum velocity: 88.3-mph

Average exit velocity: 58.5-mph

Minimum exit velocity: 40.7-mph

Maximum exit velocity: 88.8-mph

Based on pitch selection alone, it is reasonable to conclude that Salazar is utilizing his secondary offerings more often than ever before.

Why is this the case?

Salazar had a career-high 15.2% home run to fly ball rate coming into the game, meaning that the ball is travelling at much higher distances when it is lifted in the air. With four home runs vs. one flyout recorded on Tuesday's stat line, this percentage is only going to climb once Fangraphs adjusts their database.

His spray chart simply could not keep anything in the ballpark…

Even though Salazar escaped the first inning without any damage, he relapsed into the location mistakes he has been making all season long in the second, third and fifth frames.

A healthy balance of pitch efficiency and location is necessary if Salazar wants to regain the dominant form that saw him go 5-0 with a 1.91 ERA in five starts last June.

John Alfes has covered the Indians for IBI since August of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAlfes for breaking news and in-depth coverage all season long.

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