Danny Salazar will begin the 2014 season the exact same way he ended 2013, on the mound at Progressive Field.
The hard-throwing right-hander from Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic started the last game of the 2013 season for the Indians, a Wildcard Playoff against the Tampa Bay Rays, and later today, he will toe the rubber "at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario" against the Minnesota Twins in Cleveland's first home game of the regular season.
"That's amazing," the 24-year old Salazar said of being named the starter for the home opener prior to his final start of spring training. "Going back to Cleveland, I can't wait for the season to start. Knowing that I have the first home opener, I know it's going to be pretty fun.
"I feel grateful. The team, the pitching coach (Mickey Callaway) make you feel comfortable to do anything you need to work on and get better every time. I think, now, it's going to be a little bit better because it's less pressure. You can go in a little bit more relaxed and with a little bit more experience too."
Being named the starter for the home opener came as a surprise for Salazar, who was expected to be the Indians' fifth starter, but instead, will begin the season as the fourth arm in the Indian's rotation.
"All of the starting pitchers, they're a little bit ahead of me, so I thought I'd be the fifth or something like that," Salazar said. "I'm healthy, strong, and that's all that matters. I'm ready for the season."
After being named the starter for the home opener, Salazar said he received a wealth of support from the Tribe's faithful fans.
"It is (special), especially for the fans," Salazar said. "I just opened my Twitter, and everybody was saying, 'Congratulations.' That's kind of cool. I like it."
Salazar went 2-3 in 10 starts with the Indians after being called up from the minors for a spot start against the Detroit Tigers on August 7, 2013. He responded by taking a no-hitter into the sixth inning and his seven strikeouts were the most by an Indians pitcher in his Major League debut since Luis Tiant set down 11 in 1964.
He finished the regular season with a 3.12 earned run average in 52 innings of work, and allowed 44 hits and 18 earned runs with 65 strikeouts against 15 walks. Opposing batters hit just .226 against him.
Despite Salazar having an impactful rookie season, the Indians were selective in how they brought him along through spring training.
"They told me in the beginning about the program for me, and I agreed with that," Salazar said. "They know more than me. They've got more experience, and they know what is good for me. It started slow, but at the end of spring training, I was up to five good innings. I pitched in San Diego, so after that, I could go six or seven in the home opener.
"We've been getting ready here. All of the starters, the relievers are good, and I know, this year, when we're at 100 percent, we're going to be good. We're going to win some games."