Carrasco a Key Piece to Cleveland’s Pennant Defense in 2017

Just one pitch from Carlos Carrasco may have changed the entire course of the season for the Cleveland Indians.

On just his second pitch of the game on September 17 as the Indians hosted the second place Tigers, Carrasco’s pitch to Detroit’s Ian Kinsler rocketed off of his bat back towards the mound, where it met a fateful collision with the throwing hand of the right-handed Carrasco. Kinsler reached safely, but the outcome was not as kind to Carrasco, who suffered a non-displaced fracture of the fifth metacarpal in the hand, bringing a premature end to his seventh season in the Majors.

Without him, the Indians went seven games deep in the World Series. With him in the rotation for the playoffs, the results may very well have been different.

Carrasco - David Maxwell/Getty Images
Carrasco – David Maxwell/Getty Images

Carrasco is no stranger to injuries costing him chunks of seasons. He missed time in 2011, 2012, and again in 2015 with right elbow and shoulder injuries, with the lengthiest trip coming after his Tommy John surgery late in the 2011 season that cost him all of the 2012 campaign. This season, it was not wear and tear that landed Carrasco on the disabled list twice, but instead was the result of a pair of fluky and unfortunate set of circumstances, both happening against the rival Tigers.

The righty entered the 2016 season looking to build on a strong full-time return to the starting rotation the season before. The long-time starter had landed in the bullpen for much of the 2014 season, finding his stride in a relief role before looking good back in the rotation to close out that season. He went 14-12 in 2015, making 30 starts while throwing three complete games and one shutout, registering a 3.63 ERA and 1.07 WHIP, and finishing fifth in the American League with 216 strikeouts over 183 2/3 innings.

The year started off rough for Carrasco as he gave up three home runs in the season’s second game against the Boston Red Sox, but he responded as expected in his next two outings, giving up one run in a pair of wins against Tampa Bay and Seattle. But in his fourth start of April, things crashed back to earth for Carrasco at Comerica Park against the Tigers on the 24th. He had breezed through the first seven batters, giving up a leadoff single to J.D. Martinez in the second but erasing him on a double play. The number eight hitter, Andrew Romine, sent the ball to his counterpart at first base, Carlos Santana. Carrasco covered the bag and fielded the throw from Santana for the out, but would leave the game with a strained left hamstring as a result of the play.

He was placed on the 15-day disabled list the next day, putting the Tribe down two starters after the ineffective start to the season from second-year right-hander Cody Anderson.

Carrasco returned to the Cleveland roster on June 2 and worked back to form after giving up seven runs in eleven and two-thirds innings in his first two starts. On June 13, he allowed two runs on ten hits with eight strikeouts in a tough 2-1 loss at Kansas City. He made a second straight quality start in a no-decision at home to Chicago, giving up two runs over seven and one-third. On June 25, he got some payback against the Tigers, throwing a complete game four-hitter back at Comerica for his third win of the season. He followed that start with another gem to wrap up the month, allowing a run on three hits with a season-high 14 strikeouts against the Toronto Blue Jays to give the Indians 13 consecutive wins.

Four of his five starts in July would be similar quality starts. He went at least six in four of his outings, with the lone blemish a three and two-thirds innings effort at Progressive Field against the New York Yankees, when he was hurt by five runs (four of which were unearned) in a loss.

August started rough for Carrasco as he offered his worst outing of the season, tagged for eight runs on nine hits by Minnesota on August 2. He followed it with a third straight loss, despite giving up three runs over seven innings with nine strikeouts. It began an impressive span of six consecutive starts with at least eight strikeouts, including two more double-digit efforts with eleven against the White Sox on August 17 and eleven more on September 2 against the Miami Marlins as he improved to 10-7 and dropped his ERA to 3.06.

He allowed four runs in each of his next two starts before the line drive from Kinsler derailed his postseason hopes and issued a devastating blow to Cleveland’s playoff rotation.

He finished the season with a record of 11-8 with a 3.32 ERA and 1.15 WHIP across 25 starts and 146 1/3 innings. In 13 of those 25 outings, he struck out at least a half dozen opposing hitters and in the same number of starts not shortened early by injury, he allowed five hits or less.

Looking towards the future, the important starter in the Indians’ plans will turn 30 at the end of spring training as he enters the second-to-last guaranteed year on his contract. Carrasco is inked for $6.5 million in 2017 and $8 million for 2018, with team options for $9 million and $9.5 million through 2020.

Carrasco was living up to the hype down the stretch as the Indians made their push on to the playoffs. To get back once again and defend their AL title, the Tribe will need him back in his role at the front of the starting staff, setting the tone behind Cy Young contender Corey Kluber and ahead of Danny Salazar, Josh Tomlin, Trevor Bauer, and others in the rotation and bullpen.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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