Although he hadn't appeared in a Major League game in more than a year, the Cleveland Indians still signed Danny Salazar to a $4.5 million contract last fall.
It appears the team's investment could be getting close to paying off.
On Thursday, Salazar will make a rehab start with the Indians' Double-A affiliate Akron RubberDucks. The 29-year-old's start will mark his most significant game action since Oct. 9, 2017, when he pitched 1.2 innings scoreless in the Indians' Game 4 loss to the New York Yankees in the American League Division Series.
Once considered one of Cleveland's most promising young pitchers, Salazar has since seen his career marred by a series of untimely injuries. After being selected to the American League All-Star team in 2016 elbow, forearm and shoulder issues limited his availability in the second half of the season, including the bulk of the Indians' run to the 2016 World Series.
After pitching 103 innings in 23 games -- including 19 starts -- in 2017, shoulder surgery cost Salazar the entirety of the 2018 campaign. Still, the Indians opted to stick with the hard-throwing right-hander, who had been making appearances in Arizona rookie-league games prior to Thursday's rehab start.
“The impact he could have on us could be so big,” Cleveland manager Terry Francona said of Salazar in Spring Training. “You see what pitchers are signing for. You have homegrown talent, you kind of exhaust most of your options before you let him go. We don’t have all the answers. It’s not because we have all the answers -- it’s because sometimes you’re not sure. Well, you better be sure before you let an arm like that go.”
Salazar is scheduled to pitch three innings on Thursday. With the Indians' starting rotation currently hampered by injuries of its own, he could potentially return to a starting spot in Cleveland or help bolster the back end of the team's bullpen should he work his way back to the Major League level.
Also scheduled to play in Akron on Thursday is third baseman Nolan Jones, who has been promoted to the RubberDucks' roster. Selected to play in the MLB All-Stars Futures Game last weekend, the 21-year-old Jones ranks as the No. 2 prospect in the Cleveland organization, according to MLB.com.