Carrasco Rolling Heading into Stretch Run

On June 16, Carlos Carrasco was both battered and bruised.

Slogging through one of his worst stretches since becoming a real fixture in the Cleveland Indians rotation at the end of the 2014 season, Carrasco left his start on June 16 after just an inning and a third innings when a line drive to the forearm ended his day. However, the four earned runs surrendered in the first frame seemed almost as likely to send the Tribe’s 2017 Cy Young candidate to the showers early regardless.

The lined shot up the middle left Cookie with a contusion and he was put on the 10-day disabled list. A lightning-rod for liners, it was the third time in little over three years that Carrasco had an outing ended early by getting struck with a ball. When he left on this June day, Carrasco was in the crosshairs of a season that was not going as expected.

Carrasco took the loss in that game to the Twins, dropping his season record to 8-5. The record itself was actually pretty good. His ERA stood at 4.24. While not unsightly, it was not a number befitting a pitcher who had become Cleveland’s No. 2 starter and an almost 1-A over the last couple seasons, forming a formidable one-two punch with two-time Cy Young winner Corey Kluber. Carrasco was fourth last season in the American League Cy Young voting when he won a league-best 18 games and carried a 3.29 ERA.

Two seasons ago, before being nailed with a line drive in September and knocking him out for the postseason run, Carrasco had a 3.32 ERA. His injury was a big blow to the Tribe, which may have finished off its run to the World Series more successfully with its No. 2 starter in tow.

This is to say Cookie had become one of the more important starters on the team the last couple of seasons and was not living up to that billing as this season was nearing the halfway point. Following a strong April, in which he had a very good 2.23 ERA, Carrasco was falling flat in May and June. His ERAs during the second and third months were 4.98 and 5.21. He was nowhere near the ace-like form he had shown for the past three seasons.

Perhaps getting hit in the arm was a blessing in disguise. Carrasco was not seriously hurt, returning to a big league mound just 20 days later on July 6. Since his come back, Carrasco has pitched in six games. He has started five and pitched an inning of relief in the last game before the All-Star break. He has earned the win in all six, pushing his season record to 13-5, an excellent mark. More importantly, he is getting on a roll. During his two months of struggling, he would have a couple of great starts, but then a couple of horrible ones. He now seems to be putting things together.

Carrasco’s three starts since the break have all been quality. He has pitched into the seventh in all of them, giving up three earned runs in 20.1 stanzas. He probably could have had a quality start in his last start before the break on July 11, but that was the game the Tribe rolled to a 19-4 win over the Reds. Manager Terry Francona took the opportunity to rest Carrasco after five innings and 83 pitches, despite having coughed up but one run and striking out seven.

Cookie’s last four starts have been gems. Even his first start after coming back from the injury was decent. He gave up three tallies in five and one-third innings to an Oakland A’s team that was on fire. He cooled them off, a bit, for a day.

Since his return from the three-week hiatus, Carrasco has an ERA of 2.02. He has lowered his overall ERA to a more Cookie-like 3.66. More importantly, Carrasco is restoring the Indians rotation to its dominant form of last season. A year ago, he, Kluber and Trevor Bauer each won 17 or more games and seemed to be molding into one of the game’s best rotational trio.

This year, Bauer has looked like the Cy Young candidate that Carrasco was last year. Kluber, other than a little cold stretch last month, has remained an elite starter. Carrasco is joining his high-profile rotation mates now in being a pitcher that no team wants to face. When those three are clicking at the top of the rotation, wins come a lot more frequently for the Tribe.

Cleveland will need to start rolling up the victories over the next few months. The division is not in doubt, but the Indians could use a hot streak in August and September to head into the postseason on a high note. The team has slogged through regular season, to this point not really getting truly hot yet as a club. Getting a roll really does start with the big three in the rotation hitting on all cylinders.

Winning in October would certainly be a lot more possible with Kluber, Carrasco, and Bauer pitching like they can, as one of the best threesome of starting pitchers in the game. Carrasco’s return to form has restored order to the starting five and given reason for hope that the Indians, despite having the worst record among baseball’s six division leaders, can still contend with sport’s top teams come playoff time. The ability to stymie some of the game’s elite hitters for nine innings is reason for that hope.

On June 16, Carrasco may have been down, but he was merely temporarily out. These days, it is opposing hitters who are crumbling when they face Cookie.

Photo: Ron Schwane/Getty Images

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