Remain Cautious(ly Optimistic) with Carrasco in Rotation
Mike Brandyberry | On 18, Aug 2014
The Cleveland Indians have been starting a pitcher in their rotation that looks like Carlos Carrasco the last two times through the rotation.
Physically, he looks like the pitcher the Indians traded for in July 2008 and promoted to their big league roster as early as September 2009, but once the ball leaves his hand, it hasn’t looked much like the previous parts of the last five seasons. Carrasco, for the first time since having Tommy John surgery in 2011, looks like he is in control on the mound. He seems to trust all his pitches, isn’t afraid to throw them in any count and no longer tries to throw a fastball as hard as he can whenever trouble finds his way.
For the first time in a long time, Carrasco looks like a pitcher.
It’s only two starts, but Carrasco has matched up with two strong lineups. He’s pitched on the road and at home and everything has looked the same. After not earning a win on the mound as a starting pitcher in over three years, Carrasco logged two this week in just six days. Last Sunday, he pitched five innings, allowing just two hits and striking out four on 77 pitches against the New York Yankees. Having not made a start since April, it was an impressive effort. However, Saturday evening he outdid himself, tossing seven shutout innings, allowing just three hits and striking out five on 79 pitches. Two starts, 12 innings, five hits and no runs allowed by Carrasco in two starts. For anyone, that’s a good week. For a guy jettisoned to the bullpen and thought to no longer be a starting option, it might be the best week of his Indians career.
Using just 79 pitches to toss seven shutout innings is nearly Kluber-esque, but the best part may be that Carrasco has not walked a batter in his 12 innings back in the rotation. Just as notable is that he only has nine strikeouts. For someone with a plus-arm—who has tried to overuse it in the past—he’s pitching to contact and getting outs quickly and efficiently. He looks like a pitcher with a plan, attacking hitters and in control of the game. No longer does he look to be pitching scared, but with confidence.
However, remain cautious when it comes to Carrasco.
Since his falters in the rotation in April and subsequent move to the bullpen, it does appear he has found some answers. Carrasco was much more effective in the bullpen, yet it seemed Indians manager Terry Francona was reluctant to let him pitch meaningful setup innings. Aside from an outing on June 16 against the Los Angeles Angels when Carrasco pitched two and one-third innings and earned the save, he’s seen few chances in a set up role even though a hard-throwing right-hander could have taken some innings off Bryan Shaw and Cody Allen. If the Indians were reluctant to trust him in the seventh inning, we’re now supposed to believe the Indians trust him to get the game to the seventh inning?
And while it seems like an eternity ago, Carrasco did have success in the rotation in 2011. Prior to his win in New York last Sunday, his last victory as a starting pitcher was June 29, 2011. When he logged that win in Arizona, Carrasco was 8-4 in 15 starts, with a 3.54 ERA. It went south from there though, losing his next five starts, throwing at Billy Butler, receiving a six-game suspension and eventually having Tommy John surgery. Since that day in Arizona, he’s never looked the same, until now.
Now, he looks like the pitcher the Indians hoped would replace Cliff Lee in the rotation when they traded for him. The Indians may never admit it, but the only reason they went back to Carrasco is likely because they’ve exasperated all other options for starting pitching this season with failing results. After too many starts by Zach McAllister and Josh Tomlin, what choice did they have?
But remain cautious in your excitement about Carrasco’s potential coming-of-age. His two starts have certainly earned him the right to finish out the season in the rotation. That will give him probably seven more starts. That would be nine starts in his rebirth, or one less than Danny Salazar made a year ago. Salazar was supposed to be the Indians’ answer to their rotation vacancies in 2014. Instead, he’s taken a step backwards and looks to be learning to pitch at the big league level the same way Carrasco has had to this season.
The Indians need starting pitching in the worst way, and for that reason alone Carrasco should generate excitement and intrigue, but just don’t go getting too excited, too fast. After three years of inconsistencies, it should take a lot more than 12 superb innings to win his way back into the good graces and trust of the organization.
But man, those were 12 good innings!
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images