Danny Salazar, Cleveland's hard-throwing 24-year-old sophomore, got ten of the first 11 outs of Thursday afternoon's Indians-White Sox game via strikeout, but he never got a chance to get the 12th out. That's not because Salzar got hurt, but because he got hit. When Salazar was pulled from the game with two outs in the bottom of the fourth, Cleveland was trailing 5-3, and Salazar had already thrown 93 pitches. As a result, he became the first pitcher since 1900 (and likely the first major leaguer ever) to strike out ten men in a game in which he failed to complete the fourth inning.
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In the last 100 years, which is as far back as the game logs go, just ten pitchers, including Salazar, have struck out ten or more men in a game in which they failed to complete the fifth inning. Eight of them, including Sandy Koufax in 1961, the first to turn the trick, gave up four or more runs in those four-plus innings. The two exceptions both came last year. On May 10, the Rays' Alex Cobb struck out 13 Padres in 4 2/3 innings, but walked the third batter of the fifth inning with his 117th pitch and, with Tampa Bay already trailing 3-2, was pulled from the game. On Sept. 22 of last year, Felix Hernandez returned from an oblique strain that caused him to miss three starts to strike out 10 men in just four innings, throwing 92 pitches in a game at Angel Stadium that was twice delayed due to bees. Hernandez's start was, prior to Thursday night, the shortest ten-strikeout start in major league history.
One other thing that nearly all of the pitchers who have struck out ten or more in fewer then five innings have in common is that they tended to be good pitchers. In addition to Koufax, Hernandez, and Cobb, who went 11-3 with a 2.76 ERA for the Rays last year, that list includes potential Hall of Famer Mike Mussina, six-time All-Star Sudden Sam McDowell, Rookie of the Year runner-up Rick Ankiel, 142-game winner Bobby Witt, and future All-Star closer Bill Caudill. The lone exception is the Blue Jays' David Purcey. The pitcher with the most strikeouts in an outing of 3 1/3 innings or fewer? Some guy named Roy Halladay, who struck out nine while giving up five runs last April. The takeaway there is that the ten strikeouts are more significant than the five runs he allowed. Salazar is a highly-regarded prospect with a mid-90s fastball that moves and a nasty splitter who has now struck out 79 men in 61 1/3 major league innings. Thursday night's game, a 7-3 Cleveland loss that gave Salazar his first decision of the young season, was just his 13th major league start (including last year's American League Wild Card Game, which he also lost). In his eighth major league start, he struck out nine men in 3 2/3 innings without giving up a run. He's learning, he's maturing, and if he can stay healthy, the Indians have every reason to be optimistic about his future.