Carrasco’s Continued Climb a Key to Tribe’s 2015 Ride

Last summer Cedar Point promised to name a roller coaster for Lebron James if he returned home to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Maybe this summer America’s Roller Coast should consider naming one for Carlos Carrasco.

Carrasco’s ride would start fast, then be filled with twists and turns, ups and downs and appear destined to catapult it’s riders into the lake…right before a rocket lauch to the top. For Carrasco, the only question remaining is how the ride ends, either a smooth glide at the top or another rocky fall.

Since he was acquired by the Indians at the 2009 July trade deadline, Carrasco has taken all those stops on his ride with the Tribe. Now, Carrasco may be one of the most important players between the Indians winning the American League Central Division and making the playoffs, or another mediocre season.

After running out of options entering 2014, Carrasco “won” the fifth starter’s competition out of spring training. He didn’t really win it—Josh Tomlin and Aaron Harang each pitched better—but the Indians refused to give up on hard-throwing, right-hander with electric stuff who just couldn’t find a way to put it all together. Carrasco continued to falter when he was 0-3, with a 6.46 ERA in four starts. By the end of April, Carrasco was jettisoned to the bullpen, pitching mostly in non-pressure situation and long relief roles.

But once reaching the bullpen, Carrasco finally simplified things. He stopped going from the windup, started attacking hitters and gave up thinking about how to get hitters out two and three times a game. He just went and pitched. The results were clear. In 26 relief appearances Carrasco held hitters to a .217 batting average and just a 2.30 ERA. The first sign of his re-emergence may have been June 16, when the bullpen was thin and overused, Carrasco pitched the final two and one-third innings, allowing just a hit and a walk, while striking out four. Carrasco needed just 34 pitches to record the seven outs and a one run lead seemed to create no pressure for him.

Still, it wasn’t until August 10 did Carrasco beg his way back into the Tribe’s rotation. It took major struggles and minor league demotions to Zach McAllister and Josh Tomlin and the trade of Justin Masterson to warrant Carrasco another chance. For a pitcher who had not won a start since June 29, 2011, but had chances in every season, who could blame the Tribe for having their doubts.

But the new, calmer, relaxed Carrasco strode to the mound in Yankee Stadium and allowed just two hits over five innings, while striking out four on 77 pitches. He didn’t walk a man and registered his first victory as a starter in over three years. It was the beginning of a strong 10-start stretch to end the season. Carrasco won five starts in the final six weeks of the season and carded 1.72 ERA in the second half of the season—the lowest of any American League starter.

Carrasco’s emergence coincided with the Tribe’s best baseball of the season. Corey Kluber and Carrasco made a formidable 1-2 punch in the rotation, leading to the Indians getting themselves just 3.5 games back of the division lead by Labor Day. Carrasco kept his mechanics simple and his confidence high, along with using his curveball more. Carrasco and Kluber combined to strike out 182 batters in the final two months of the season—the most by any pair of starting teammates. For an Indians defense that was one of the worst in 2014, the more outs recorded by the pitcher, the better.

Monday Carrasco’s 2015 journey begins with his first spring start. The Indians are one of the popular picks to be a surprise in the American League and contend for the Central Division title and beyond. Much of those lofty predictions are predicated on the young, high-octane arms in their starting rotation. The arrival of Carrasco as the player the Indians thought he could be when we was obtained for Cliff Lee is now one of the Tribe’s key to success.

Carrasco has stated this spring that he want’s to be the second starter in the rotation, behind Kluber. It’s unfair to expect a 1.72 ERA from Carrasco like he had in the second half of the season, but where he plateau’s is the huge question. If Carrasco carries his 2014 second half into 2015, he has the potential to lead the staff along with Kluber and become as strong a 1-2 punch as any two starters in the American League. If he regresses, and his 10 starts at the end of the season become just a fairy tale of what could have been, Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway will be scrambling to find another young pitcher among Trevor Bauer, Danny Salazar and T.J. House to emerge as a front of the rotation starter.

Carrasco and Kluber, pitching back-to-back in the rotation, mowing down hitters and leading the Tribe to a combined 35 wins though, that sounds like a fun ride on the shores of Lake Erie to be enjoyed all summer. A ride like that could be so strong to have lines waiting until the end of Halloweekends.

Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer

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