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Aeros lose opener, but pitcher shows promise

4/11/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Craig Marks

Stilt walkers Kaye Vander and Julia Pankhurst had a good view of the street fair held before the Akron Aeros’ April 4 home opener.
Photos: Craig Marks
DOWNTOWN AKRON — Despite masterful pitching by starter Danny Salazar and the relief corps, the Akron Aeros fell to the Binghamton Mets 2-1 in their 2013 opener April 4.

Len Barker, who pitched a perfect game for the Tribe in 1981, threw out one of the first pitches at the Akron Aeros’ April 4 home opener.
Pitcher T.J. House was one of the Aeros who received a championship ring from the team’s new owner, Ken Babby April 4. The Aeros won the Eastern League title in 2012.
The team’s new manager, Edwin Rodriguez, was not overly concerned by the defeat.

“The pitching was good, the energy was good,” said Rodriguez, a former manager of the Florida Marlins (2010-11). “It was the lack of offense that was the game. There were a lot of good things in the game.”

There were a lot of good things before it, too. The opener was the first under the stewardship of Ken Babby, the Aeros’ new owner, and he seemed determined to make it memorable. Among the sights were: mascots arriving in a FedEx truck; a mini carnival outside the ballpark complete with jugglers, stilt walkers and a blues band; and a skydiver. Len Barker, the last Indian to hurl a perfect game, threw out a first pitch.

The Aeros players did not sit out the pregame ceremonies, of course. Members of the starting lineup arrived in Corvettes, while the rest of the team ran through a gauntlet of fans. Earlier in the ceremony, returning members of last year’s team received their rings for being the 2012 Eastern League champs.

One of the returnees is Salazar, whose late-season work is a big reason the team earned the jewelry.

Salazar, 23, was promoted from Class-A Carolina last August. In six regular-season games for the Aeros, he compiled a 4-0 regular season record. He also contributed in the Eastern League playoffs, pitching 11.1 innings, striking out 17.

In the 2013 opener, the 23-year-old right-hander picked up where he left off. Salazar held the B-Mets hitless for four innings before surrendering two hits in the fifth. The hits, coupled with a walk, led to a run, though Salazar would have gotten out of the inning unscathed had a double play been turned.

Salazar, who the Indians signed as an undrafted free agent in 2006, underwent Tommy John surgery in 2010. Rodriguez said Salazar’s pitching became more refined after he returned to the mound.

“I think he relied more on locating and changing speeds than just overpowering hitters,” said Rodriguez, who coached Salazar in Carolina last year.

If Salazar continues to show a talent for getting batters out, the parent club might take a special interest in him. The Indians’ April 8 home opener against the New York Yankees did not alleviate fears about the Tribe’s starting pitching.

Ubaldo Jimenez, in his second appearance of 2013, gave up seven earned runs in four and one-third innings against the Yankees, who defeated the Tribe 11-6. The trouble began early, when Ubaldo surrendered a three-run homer to former Indian Travis Hafner in the first inning.

While Jimenez was sharp in his first outing, his shaky start against the Yankees — along with the performances of other Indian starters not named “Masterson” — will keep promising pitchers like Salazar on the Tribe’s radar.

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