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The Danny Salazar "shoulder fatigue" corner

There's clearly a 'shoulder fatigue' epidemic at the Corner of Carnegie and Ontario, and I find myself wondering what the hell does that even mean?

You'll have to bare with me here, just a little bit, because the Cleveland Indians' front office often uses terms that really need a certain clarification, especially for a fan base that is ready to jump off a cliff at the drop of a hat.

It was reported this week that the Indians' certified G and bonafide ace Danny Salazar will miss his scheduled Tuesday start due to, you guessed it, 'shoulder fatigue.'
The good news? Salazar is only likely missing a start, and should be on the hill this coming Sunday. The bad news? Well, it's shoulder fatigue, and rumor has it that when you are a thrower of baseballs, the shoulder is somewhat important regarding that throwing part.

While you always worry about shoulder fatigue (and I'll give you plenty of reason in this article to do just that) rest assured, there may be a less clandestine reason behind Salazar's "week-long break."

You see, the Indians really, really love Mr. Salazar.

Trust me on this, they've taken care of Salazar unlike any pitcher in the history of the organization, and I swear to you, that's not hyperbole. I've gotten crushed for saying that Salazar is an ace (you know, the smarks have delineations on how to use that term), that he'll win multiple Cy Youngs (you shouldn't jinx these things), that he isn't a reliever (really, does anyone even mention his 'limited arsenal' anymore?), and that he has a skill-set that sets him apart from most of the starters that have ever put on the Indians' jersey (I'm not going to name names here, because I actually want you to continue reading).

With all of that said, the Indians have always understood Salazar's skillset, and have done everything in their power to ensure that said skillset was maximized.

But sheesh, the term "shoulder fatigue" sure does seem redundant, doesn't it?

So really, what is shoulder fatigue anyways?

I get what shoulder fatigue is, and so do you. If you follow the sport of baseball, you've likely heard the term 'dead arm' before. Shoulder fatigue is just a fanciful way to say it. Salazar, quite simply, has a tired arm. On the surface, that doesn't sound all that bad, and it likely isn't, but the term in and of itself leaves a lot of loose ends. Of course, the Indians have already scheduled his next start, and I'm sure that they've run through the protocol to make sure that his arm is sound.

But again, when you use a generic term like 'shoulder fatigue,' what does it really mean? Let's get the bad out of the way, because the last time the team used the term 'shoulder fatigue,' it was in reference to another prominent Cleveland Indians' player who hasn't had a whole luck with his shoulder over the past several months.

The Michael Brantley "shoulder fatigue"

On May 10th, the Indians' rested Tribe left fielder Michael Brantley because of his sore shoulder. On May 13th, while most of the Indians' fandom were waiting for their left fielder's return with bated breath, a familiar term was mentioned regarding Brantley's shoulder, according to MLB.com's fantastic Indians' beat writer, Jordan Bastian.
"Michael Brantley remained out of the starting lienup for the Indians on Friday, marking the third straight game the outfielder has missed due to right shoulder fatigue."
Ugh.

Brantley was put on the DL the next day, retroactive to the 10th, and rumors of a lengthy stay rehabbing the shoulder creeped into the narrative over the past day or two. Considering Brantley will have already missed a month of baseball (after playing only 11 games to begin with), we may not be seeing the Tribe starting left fielder until the stretch run.

This is where the narrative shifts, because of course, Brantley isn't Salazar, and Salazar isn't Brantley. This is also where I come to question terms like "shoulder fatigue," and where I equally want to pop the front office in the head, when said front office pulls out generic terms like 'shoulder fatigue.'

The differences regarding Brantley and Salazar are fairly clear. On September 22, 2015, Brantley injured his right shoulder making a diving attempt at an Aaron Hicks line drive when the Indians were playing the Minnesota Twins. There was a slight tear in his labrum, and Brantley and the Indians' brain trust decided that with rehab, he could fix the ailment. That didn't take, and Brantley went under the knife to repair the injury in early November.

He resumed hitting during spring training, got into some games, then got shut down again, because of, you guessed it, 'shoulder soreness and fatigue.' He was able to return one month later, but his eleven-game run ended with his current DL stint.

It's clear that the 'shoulder fatigue' mentioned regarding Brantley is 100% connected to an injury that he sustained last September, and that his shoulder just hasn't responded consistently since then. While this article isn't about Brantley, does anyone remember a certain cat named Travis Hafner?

The Travis Hafner "shoulder fatigue"

During Spring Training in 2008, Hafner had a 'strained shoulder,' and the Indians chose to let him play through it. On May 30th, Hafner went on the DL and chose not to go under the knife. He returned on September 9th, played through September 28th, and ultimately had arthroscopic surgery on the shoulder after Dr. James Andrews tested said shoulder at 75% of capacity, compared to his left shoulder.

I guess that would be 'shoulder fatigue,' right?

Hafner's surgery was less divisive than Brantley's, as his 45-minute procedure was simply a cleaning. Hafner was never the same, although you could argue that his decline happened prior to the shoulder injury.

Still, it's clear it didn't help.

So what about pitchers? The Scott Kazmir "shoulder fatigue" 

Here's where I could really dive down the 'shoulder fatigue,' but will only mention a former hurler that Indians' fans are familiar with. Remember, I'm only mentioning this guy because the term, 'shoulder fatigue' was used just prior to the end of his career, before his career rebooted.

The Indians signed starting pitcher Scott Kazmir after a mysterious 'something' derailed a sparkling start to his career in 2011. Kazmir had been struggling in prior years thanks to a myriad injuries that started with a triceps injury, turned into a groin injury, manifested into elbow issues, and ended up depleting his shoulder strength. It's easy to surmise that mechanics may have put stress on his body, being that Kazmir had/has an extremely violent delivery that has him turned sideways after releasing the ball.

In 2010, Kazmir, he of said violent delivery, began having shoulder problems, including a couple of DL stints. With prior elbow issues, Kazmir's violent delivery shifted to the point he was pushing the ball. Some say the alteration in his delivery was on purpose, and some say it was because his shoulder and elbow hurt. Regardless, 'dead arm' was part of the equation. He lost velocity, changed mechanics, and had to break down his delivery before he made a resounding return, with an amazing uptick in velocity, in 2013 with the Tribe.

Again, the only comparison I'm trying to make here is that the term 'shoulder fatigue' was utilized during his last "full season" in 2010, prior to his long climb back to the big league level. Another generic term that ended up encompassing a whole bunch of other stuff.

Thank goodness Salazar's mechanics, while not perfect, are pretty damn good.

So what about Salazar, and why shouldn't we be all that worried?

I haven't read any articles today, but I'm sure what's prevalent in the 'why we shouldn't be too worried' camp is that he's only missing eight days or so, between starts. I agree to a point. Working under the assumption that he'll actually start this coming Sunday, this really is a good sign, especially when you consider just how much they absolutely, positively love Danny Salazar.

Again, this isn't hyperbole, and I'll get to that in a minute. Let's give some quick background first.

In 2014, Dr. Andrews American Sports Medicine Institute (ASMI) issued a position statement on elbow injuries, and while the elbow and the shoulder aren't the same, Dr. Andrews has ultimately stated that both types of injuries are likely caused by the same issue.

Pitchers at all levels throw the baseball too much.

In that article, there are three pieces sighted, one by Andrews himself, discussing overuse as it pertains to shoulders. Obviously, when you are dealing with musculature and tendons, related to a violent arm action, they are likely one and the same. Oh, and before you talk about the beautiful nature of Salazar's delivery, you're right...it is. I'm just saying that throwing the ball as hard as he does isn't a normal occurrence, so in essence, all deliveries culminating into 95+ MPH velocity are by nature, violent.

What impresses me the most, regarding this piece, is that the Indians were way out in front of it. Salazar had Tommy John in 2010, four years prior to this position statement, and the Indians weren't taking any chances. It's also very true that Dr. Andrews hasn't been quiet about overuse prior to 2014, it's just that the competitive game of baseball doesn't like to listen to people that keep their valuable assets from being valuable assets sooner, rather than later.

The Indians understood how valuable an asset Salazar was, and treated him as such, understanding that a healthy Salazar was more valuable than a flame-out.

Now, if you paid attention even a little bit to Danny Salazar's career, you might be wondering what kind of crack I'm on. Salazar hasn't been overused, so why would I be mentioning overuse? I'm a moron, right?

Well, I am, but that's doesn't have a thing to do with this article.

It's simple. The Indians have always been sensitive to the term overuse and Salazar. In essence, they've made sure one doesn't divulge into the other. While many screamed his fragile arm didn't allow him to pitch a whole lot or utilize a diverse arsenal (yes, I'm talking to you, bullpen morons) the Indians were simply taking care of their asset, while listening to the preeminent Dr.'s in the field.

See how that works? You listen to experts, and not morons (ignore that I'm a moron, for a few more minutes anyways).

Salazar has never pitched over 200 innings in a season. The most he's pitched came during last season's 191 innings, which included his full load with Cleveland, and one start in Columbus. In 2014, he pitched in 170 2/3 innings (including the minors), which was up from 145 total innings in 2013. Prior to that were two seasons sandwiching his surgery, which came in right at the 100 IP-mark.

As mentioned, all of that usage was thanks to that 2010 Tommy John surgery, and the Indians unique way of handling him. The Indians didn't listen to the eight-to-ten month diagnosis regarding their starter's return to the mound. Instead, they looked at the numbers, and realized that pitchers that waited over a year had better results. The Indians and Salazar waited the 12 months to pitch in real baseball games, and even then, only allowed him to throw 14 2/3 innings. That was 2011. 

In 2012, Salazar began his slow climb to the big leagues, but the Tribe held him to an extreme pitch limit. They understood his talent, and equally understood that they needed to harness his usage to allow him to become a healthy ace, and not a cautionary tale.

He only pitched in 87 2/3 innings with the club (including 14 innings in winter league ball), and moved from High A Carolina to Double A Akron during that season. After a setback early in the 2012 season, his early pitch count limit was 50 pitches or the fourth inning, whichever came first. He had thrown 68 pitches in his opening game, then pitched four full innings in his second, before he was shut down for a month because of 'right-arm stiffness.' Lesson learned.

After that, the limits were put in place in stone. How rigid were they? Salazar didn't pitch a full four innings until July of 2012, and didn't pitch a full five innings until his July 31st start that year. It was also his last start in High A, as he finished the season in Akron. That's when they briefly took some of the kid gloves off, with his pitch limit upped to what was clearly seven innings or 100 pitches. He didn't pitch another game under 70 pitches in 2012, but again, it was August.

The Indians weren't done taking care of Salazar either. In 2013, he started the year in Double A Akron with what was clearly a five-to-six inning limit, or 80 pitches. He was pretty dominant (other than a couple of early season starts), but never went past the sixth, and never made more than 82 pitches.

He moved up to Triple A Columbus in early May, and seemed to have a similar cap, not pitching past the fifth inning in any start, but did manage two starts of 89 and 88 pitches respectively. What's interesting about this, is that in between two stints with Columbus, Salazar made one start with the Indians, in which he threw 89 pitches in six innings. They brought him up, but still tended to that arm usage.

Salazar made the singular start with the Indians in early August against Miami, went back to Columbus for the rest of the month, then returned to Cleveland in September. It's here that it looked like the club may have decided it was time to take off the handcuffs. Salazar went over 100 pitches and into the eighth inning in his first start back, that dominant performance against the Tigers. I'm not sure if his luster blinded Terry Francona that day into allowing Salazar to throw 100 pitches, but after that game, he didn't pitch past the sixth inning, and didn't make over 90 pitches.

Hopefully, you are seeing the pattern. The Indians realized Salazar wasn't just another guy throwing the ball, and thanks to the Tommy John surgery, they didn't want to go for double jeopardy either. This was easy to see, thanks to his spring training handling after the 2013 season.

In 2014, the Indians continued to "handle" their youngster. The big question that spring was whether or not Salazar would be in the rotation. In March, Salazar only totaled 10 1/3 spring training innings, while the rest of the starting staff were all over 20. Salazar started the year with the club, but ultimately bounced between the big league club and the minors for much of the early part of the year. He had struggled out of the gate, and much of that was blamed on the fact that he wasn't given enough game-time starts in spring. Still, you could see that they were still making sure that he was 'right,' four years after his elbow surgery, and everyone whining about be damned.

In 2015, again, Salazar only pitched in 11 innings, while the rest of the staff were upwards of 25. Salazar was a lock to make the rotation at this point, and it was clear that they were still treating him with the 'playbook' they had begun to create way back in 2011. Again, the early season Salazar watch continued for the organization, who continued to take care of his golden arm in a way that really is unprecedented.

Remember, this is now 4 2/3 years removed from his surgery, and minus on minor league stint and some other "soreness" issues, Salazar was healthy. The Indians were keen to keep it that way.

If you've followed the path less traveled with me, that brings us to the current 2016 season. With the Indians secure in their rotation, and Salazar a key cog in that rotation, I was monstrously curious as to how they'd handle him coming into spring training. Would they limit his innings, as they had in the past, or would they unleash the hound.

Woof! Woof!

Salazar threw a full gambit of innings, at 26 1/3, for the first time in his career, which led the team. It clearly has paid off. If you gaze at his April and May splits in 2014 and 2015, his ERA never went below 3.30, and averaged over 4.00. In 2016, his ERA is stuck right at 2.40, which is a fantastic place to start. I do want to note that his FIP/xFIP/BABIP during these Salazar months are interesting to look at, which open the door to a whole other wormhole. I'll leave that for another day.

While it's true that Salazar threw innings in the minors during this stretch of months in prior years, these can't take the place of major league innings, and when you add the 10+ innings and added workload he took on in 2016 during the spring, it's clear that his arm has, and pardon the pun, shouldered more usage up to this point in 2016, then it ever has before.

Without looking at the types of pitches he's throwing, it's easy to surmise that Salazar is likely feeling the burden of said usage at the most. I would even suffice it to say that the Indians front office may be looking at the potential of 200 innings this year for Salazar, combined with the Indians solid play as of late, as a reason to limit his usage now, while keeping his arm fresh for later.

While that sounds insane to some, back up several paragraphs and read how they've handled Salazar in the past, straight up through the 2015 season. Is it a stretch to think that they are still working under the same playbook they've been using since his Tommy John surgery?

Have you paid attention to the Indians' front office since Mark Shapiro has taken over?

They're all about methodology, and their game plan for Salazar has been clear from the start, if you have paid any attention, and to the writers of Fight Club, thank you, and sorry for butchering your lines.

Welcome to Danny Salazar.

First rule of Danny Salazar?

You don't overuse Danny Salazar.

Second rule of Danny Salazar?

You DON'T OVERUSE DANNY SALAZAR.

Third rule of Danny Salazar?

If it feels like you've overused Danny Salazar, rest Danny Salazar.

Fourth rule?

Danny Salazar isn't a bullpen guy.

Fifth rule?

Danny Salazar will win Cy Youngs, plural.

Okay, Okay...okay, I took that a little bit too far, but you get the point. It makes sense that Salazar is getting benched for a start, because it fits the M.O. of what the club has done with him over the past few years. The Indians give him today off, then can utilize the two off days left in June if they need to. Again, Salazar may actually have shoulder fatigue, but if they were truly worried about it, you can see that they normally "overdo" it with Danny. One start isn't overdoing it, it's just doing what they do.

So this is your friendly, neighborhood EHC columnist being pretty unconcerned about Salazar's missed start, and I love Salazar. One missed start isn't a conversation, although it arguably is a short conversation starter. A tired arm, after being used more than ever before, is to be expected. Of course, a second missed start can change that conversation pretty damn quickly. But we aren't there yet, and don't appear to be heading there. This is just the Indians, doing what they do with a player that they understand extensively.

It's Danny Salazar's playbook, and a pretty smart and valuable one at that.
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