DETROIT -- The Indians see the potential that Danny Salazar possesses in his right arm. That is why Cleveland pushed him swiftly up the organizational ladder last season, trusted him with a start in the American League Wild Card Game in the fall and handed him a rotation job this spring.
The possibilities that exist in Salazar's future are why the Indians are willing to weather some growing pains in the present. Through three outings this season, the young right-hander has struggled with inconsistency. The problem arose again Thursday, when a meltdown in the fifth inning sent the Indians on their way to a 7-5 loss to the Tigers at Comerica Park.
"We all see what Danny can do and we believe that he will do it," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "I think with youth, sometimes it doesn't happen as fast. You want it to happen right now. He'll be all right."
Salazar was charged with the task of taking on Tigers ace Justin Verlander, who was outpitched by Cleveland's 24-year-old right-hander for the first four innings. The Indians made Verlander work for every out, forced his pitch count up and sent him to the showers after five innings. Led by Michael Brantley, the Tribe's offense did its part, coming through in a handful of key situations.
In the first four innings, Salazar relinquished one run on three hits, but his command was solid. He changed speeds on his pitches and he needed only 47 pitches to that point. Armed with a 3-1 lead in the fifth -- courtesy of a two-run single from Brantley in the fifth inning -- Salazar took the mound with the last three batters of Detroit's order due up.
The situation was set up nicely for Salazar to push toward the win column.
"It was a big shutdown inning for us," Francona said. "We get on the board, take the lead and they got the bottom of the lineup."
Salazar's unraveling began with a walk to Alex Avila, and it continued with a four-pitch free pass to Alex Gonzalez. Rather than take a moment to calm himself down, Salazar began to worry about his mechanics and started thinking about little things within his delivery that were possibly going awry.
"You give a walk and you start thinking," Salazar said. "For me, I started putting too many things in my mind. Maybe I'm pulling a little bit. Maybe my arm is behind. I started thinking a little bit about those things. That's when I lost control on every pitch."
Two batters after the back-to-back walks, Salazar slipped into a 3-1 count against Ian Kinsler, who jumped on an elevated fastball. The ball carried out to left-center field for a two-run home run -- the second blast of the season for Detroit's second baseman -- and gave the Tigers a 4-3 advantage. Detroit then loaded the bases again and plated one more run on a sacrifice fly from Austin Jackson.
"It's not necessarily bad walking some of their hitters," Francona said. "You've just got to walk the right ones and not turn the lineup over and get to the big boys. That really hurt us."
The Tigers tacked on two more runs against Cleveland's bullpen for insurance, sealing a split of the abbreviated two-game series in Detroit.
"He's got a very good arm," Kinsler said of Salazar. "He commanded the strike zone very well early in the game. He's tough. We were finally able to get through."
After the 35-pitch disaster in the fifth, Francona lifted Salazar from the game.
"I totally lost control," Salazar said. "The first couple innings, I was throwing the ball down in the zone. I wasn't trying to overthrow any pitches like my fastball. I was throwing hard and soft. In that fifth inning, I think I tried to get more aggressive and too perfect there, and I just lost control."
The fifth-inning collapse effectively erased Cleveland's efforts against Verlander, who threw 113 pitches and was charged with three unearned runs -- thanks to a handful of errors -- to go along with four walks and seven strikeouts. Verlander entered the afternoon averaging 3.7 pitches per batter faced, but the Tribe worked him for a rate of 4.7 pitches per plate appearance.
"We made him work from the first hitter of the game," Francona said. "If you can get him out after five, you feel like you have a pretty good chance to win, and we did. We just couldn't stop them."
Cleveland did what it could to rally, striking for two more runs in the seventh inning. With one out and a runner on, Brantley lifted an 0-1 offering from Tigers lefty Ian Krol to right field for a two-run home run that cut Detroit's lead to 6-5. Brantley ended the day with four RBIs and Lonnie Chisenhall contributed a career-best four hits, but the damage had been done.
Complicating matters was the third-inning ejection of Indians All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis, who was tossed from the game by home-plate umpire Lance Barrett for arguing a strike call. It marked the first ejection of Kipnis' career.
Through three starts, Salazar has turned in a 7.71 ERA in just 14 innings. The right-hander has 17 strikeouts, but he has also surrendered 19 hits, issued eight walks and yielded four home runs. It is a drastic contrast to last season, when Salazar burst onto the big league scene and turned in a 3.12 ERA with 65 strikeouts across 52 innings in 10 starts.
Salazar knows there is plenty of work left to be done.
"I think I need to start watching videos of last year and this year," Salazar said, "to see what I am doing different."