Seven years after Roger Salkeld’s final pitch for the Saugus High baseball team bounced to the backstop at Dodger Stadium, causing the Centurions to lose the Southern Section 3-A Division championship, he is back on the same field.
This time as a major leaguer.
Some might say he’s overdue, but considering what Salkeld has been through, he’ll take it.
The differences between the 18-year-old with the million-dollar arm--adjusted for inflation--who was the third pick in the 1989 draft and the 25-year-old who has settled into the Cincinnati Reds’ rotation are a new right shoulder and a lot of wisdom.
“I took advantage of my status when I got drafted,” Salkeld said Saturday before the Reds played the Dodgers. “I thought it was just a matter of putting in my time and I’d be in the big leagues and that’s not how it works. . . . This is my job and you’ve got to battle the whole way here. It’s not hard to get to the big leagues. It’s hard to stay.”
And that’s just what Salkeld has finally done with the Reds. He fought back from reconstructive shoulder surgery to make the major leagues with the Seattle Mariners for a few brief stints in 1993 and 1994, but never for as long as he has this year.
Although he’s bounced between the rotation and bullpen this season, his new two-seam fastball has helped him to excellent back-to-back starts and a solid foothold in the rotation.
He beat the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday in Cincinnati with a seven-inning performance that Salkeld called the best of his major league career. He gave up one run on five hits and did not walk a batter. He lost his previous start despite yielding only two runs in seven innings.
The two-seam fastball he’s developed in the past month is largely responsible.
“It’s helped me set up my curve, set up my slider and my fastball,” Salkeld said. “It’s a pitch that’s helped me get out of tough situations.”
Salkeld is 2-1 with a 3.93 earned-run average. He’s made five starts and three relief appearances.
“Right now he’s probably our third starter . . . second starter . . . heck, our first starter,” said Ray Knight, Reds’ manager. “He’s pitched so well that he’s certainly not a fifth starter. I don’t want him to miss a start.”
Salkeld was scheduled to start against the Dodgers today, but a rainout on Thursday in Cincinnati pushed everyone back a day in the rotation, so Salkeld will start Monday night in San Diego.
“It would have been nice to have [friends and family] here to watch, but that’s not my objective,” Salkeld said. “They can get it on TV. It doesn’t matter to me. A start is a start. I’ve got to do the same job in San Diego that I would do here.”
Salkeld’s approach and work habits are indicative of someone who takes nothing for granted.
“Getting through the surgery and getting through the time off and wondering if you are ever going to pitch again will make you a better person,” Salkeld said.
After Salkeld signed with the Mariners for $225,000, he sailed through the minor leagues as quickly as his 96 mph fastball zipped past hitters. He reached triple A by 1991 at age 20.
While he was trying to earn a spot in the Mariners rotation in spring training in ’92, he suffered a shoulder injury that cost him the season.
He didn’t return to pitching until August 1993. The Mariners called him up for his major league debut late that season, and he spent the 1994 season bouncing between triple A and the majors.
In May 1995, the Mariners gave up on Salkeld and traded him to the Reds for Tim Belcher. Salkeld spent the rest of the season with the Reds’ triple-A team in Indianapolis. His 12-2 record earned him a chance at a starting job.
“I’m very pleased,” Salkeld said. “I have a few things to work out, but other than that I wouldn’t change anything right now.”