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From Zeros to Potential Heroes For Carrasco and Salazar

From Zeros to Potential Heroes For Carrasco and Salazar

| On 05, Sep 2014

It’s a well-known fact that with a 162-game schedule a lot can happen over the course of a baseball season – the longest season in North American sports.

The idea of a Major League Baseball season being a marathon much more than a sprint is a horribly overused cliché, but has been very much seen on the home front with the Cleveland Indians starting pitching this year.

Most notably of that starting five are Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco. Seemingly tied at the hip, it almost feels as though the pair of pitchers has crammed multiple seasons into one.

Each hurler began the 2014 campaign as a member of the starting five. Both found themselves out of the rotation by the middle of May due to poor performances. Now, the two are among those leading the charge as the Indians are making another September push for a spot in MLB’s postseason. It has been a wild ride of a season for both that appears to be culminating in important, stretch-run roles.

The only real difference for the two Cleveland right-handers is the bridge that gaped the disappointing start of the season to the now career-saving endings for each. However, in both cases, Salazar and Carrasco both seemed to get just what they needed as the young starters appear poised to fulfill lofty expectations they have been saddled with.

In Salazar’s case, he earned a spot in this year’s rotation with his eye-opening work down the stretch in 2013. He made his debut last year and was a key component in Cleveland’s drive to an American League Wild Card nod. Salazar even earned the start in the Wild Card contest.

However, it became apparent early in the season that Salazar may not have been a finished product. He struggled with his command and was lit up. In eight starts through May 15, the 24-year-old was 1-4 with a 5.53 ERA. He was sent to Triple-A Columbus to continue polishing his promising pitching arsenal.

As for Carrasco, the 27-year-old had to earn a spot in the Opening Day rotation in spring training. Out of options, the Indians risked losing the talented, but sometimes head-strong hurler if he was sent to the minors. Carrasco had been very erratic in three seasons before this one. He looked like he had promise in 2010 and looked like a guy who would have a short career in 2011 and 2013. His 2012 season was washed out due to Tommy John surgery.

Like Salazar, Carrasco got off to an awful start. He only made four starts and that was all Tribe manager Terry Francona needed to see to know he was not getting the job done. In those four starts, Carrasco carried a 6.95 ERA. Rather than option Carrasco to the minors, the Indians put him in the bullpen as a last-ditch effort to try and get something from the last remaining player from the trade that saw Cleveland send Cliff Lee to the Phillies.

By mid-May, Salazar and Carrasco, 40% of the Opening Day starting rotation, were no longer starting for the Tribe. Both sent in different directions. However, the moves for both apparently worked.

Salazar has come back from Columbus looking even better than the rookie revelation he was a year ago. He was 2-0 with a 3.00 ERA in a pair of July starts and went 2-2 with a 2.77 ERA in five August outings. Salazar topped all that off Wednesday in a huge win against the Tigers. Needing to stop at two-game losing streak, Salazar tossed the first complete-game shut out of his career. His season numbers, once dismal, are now 6-6 and 3.80 ERA.

Carrasco, who became nearly a lights-out pitcher in the Tribe pen, had a chance to work on his pitches and fine-tune them against Major League hitters in shorter bursts. It has proven to be a stroke of genius to let him get things turned around at the big league level, especially considering Carrasco had little left to prove on the minors, any way.

Carrasco has made four starts since being reinserted into the starting five. He has allowed one earned run or less in each outing. His best performance came against the Tigers on Tuesday. The Indians lost 4-2. However, Carrasco left with a 2-1 lead, working out of tough jams all night and striking out 10 batters in one of the game’s best offenses.

Salazar and Carrasco were both once left for dead. Carrasco, it seemed, would never start again and become a solid reliever. Salazar seemingly was going to have to wait until next year to make another impression on the Major League roster. Both have rebounded in huge ways.

Now, with ace Corey Kluber suffering through his coldest stretch of the season, the recent performances of Carrasco and Salazar are one of the biggest reasons the Indians are still hanging around the conversation when it comes to the postseason.

Combined with fellow young pitchers T.J. House and Trevor Bauer, Salazar and Carrasco have given the Tribe hope for this season and perhaps the future.

Baseball is, indeed, a long season. However, to see a pair of pitchers go from the rotation, to ostracized, to important parts of a playoff push really does show how long and how winding of a road the summer can provide.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images