Baseball takes little time off in between seasons, so neither can we. Follow along at Did the Tribe Win Last Night as we count down to March 26, when the Cleveland Indians host the Detroit Tigers for game one of the 2020 season. – BT
Countdown to Opening Day – 59 days
The 2019 season had a lot of unexpected obstacles for the Cleveland Indians, but none resonated more with the Major League Baseball community than the leukemia battle fought by Carlos Carrasco.
Baseball fans around the world rallied for Carrasco behind the “I Stand for Cookie” campaign as his private battle became public just ahead of the All-Star Game hosted in Cleveland. He became a face for the fight as he was honored prior to the exhibition in a ceremony that left few dry eyes among the Cleveland faithful in attendance. Then improbably, three months after his last appearance, Carrasco returned to the mound as a September call-up when rosters expanded and was greeted with ovations nearly everywhere he pitched.
The tenth season of Carrasco’s career was easily the most difficult one that he had dealt with. In what proved to be his shortest season of work since his Tommy John-shortened 2013 season, Carrasco made 23 appearances for the Tribe, including 12 starts and 11 relief appearances. While over the course of the previous four years, Carrasco had put himself on the radar as one of the top pitchers in the American League. But something seemed off early on, especially after a good overall showing during Cactus League play, when he went 3-1 in four starts with a 3.79 ERA and a 1.11 WHIP with 22 strikeouts and two walks in 19 innings of work.
He was roughed up for six runs on ten hits against the Minnesota Twins in his season debut on March 31. He bounced back with a 12-strikeout performance in a win over Toronto on April 6, but he was tagged for six runs on six hits in just two-thirds of an inning in Kansas City against the Royals on April 12. The roller coaster continued with another 12-strikeout game as he fired seven three-hit shutout innings in a win against Seattle on April 17.
Carrasco was pitching well against Miami on April 23, with four strikeouts and just two hits allowed in four scoreless innings, but he injured his left knee in a collision covering first base and had to leave the game. He did not miss any time, but the results were not the same the next two times out as he gave up four runs to Houston in a loss on April 28 and four more (all on solo homers) in a rematch with Seattle on May 4.
The 32-year-old right-hander seemed to find a good groove as May play settled in. He earned a rain-shortened five-inning shutout victory over the Chicago White Sox on May 9, allowing just two hits, and he threw seven shutout innings in a second straight start against them on May 14, scattering six hits with six strikeouts for his fourth win of the season.
Things began to trend the wrong way in the back half of the month as he struggled with the long ball. He gave up a pair to Oakland while allowing three runs in a loss on May 20. He gave up three more and six runs total in a May 25 defeat. He was charged with six runs on ten hits in six and one-third innings in his third start of the season against the White Sox on May 30 to drop him to 4-6 on the year with a 4.98 ERA.
Behind the scenes, Carrasco and the Indians had been doing some research. He had been going through bouts of sluggishness and feeling excessively tired and, on June 5, the team placed him on the 10-day injured list with a non-baseball medical condition the club referred to as a blood condition. Carrasco stepped away from baseball and a month later, the pitcher announced on television in the Dominican Republic that he was battling chronic myeloid leukemia, a form of cancer.
While such a diagnosis may have been enough for any person to step away from nonessential activities and focus on health and family, Carrasco did more, focusing on his fight and working his way back to the diamond before the close of the season. He made a pair of rehab appearances at Double-A Akron on August 19 and 22, then two more with Triple-A Columbus on August 25 and 29, before being activated on September 1. He made his triumphant return to the Major League mound three months after his last start, doing so near his home in Tampa against the Rays. There were some bumps in the road as he worked eleven total times in relief, but he contributed down the stretch to give the Indians innings and inspiration as they pursued a last-ditch drive to a playoff spot, one ultimately missed.
It is hard to look into Carrasco’s numbers and read too much into his production in 2019 knowing what he was dealing with on and off the field. The more important factor was that his condition was in check enough that playing the game of baseball was even an option. As it stood, he went 6-7 in 12 starts and 11 relief appearances with a 5.29 ERA, a 1.35 WHIP, a healthy 10.8 K/9 rate, and one save.
Carrasco’s role in 2020 is a question mark to some, but given the changes in the starting rotation from this time one year ago, it is hard to envision a scenario that Carrasco is not a part of manager Terry Francona’s starting five unless his health limits his ability to pitch to those kinds of lengths. The starting depth remains strong, even with the subtraction of Trevor Bauer midseason and Corey Kluber this offseason, but the young arms are unproven and many will be getting their sophomoric looks at the league with plenty of video data available to other clubs. Carrasco could team up with Mike Clevinger and Shane Bieber as the top three arms on the staff, with the likes of Zach Plesac, Aaron Civale, Adam Plutko, Jefry Rodriguez, and others behind them to form a still-formidable rotation.
With more time removed from his diagnosis and an offseason focused on living life to its fullest, Carrasco will be primed and ready to get back to baseball and pursuing his passion at the top of his game once again.
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Other players to wear #59 in Tribe history:
Kevin Bearse (1990)
Jim Thome (1991)
Albie Lopez (1993-97)
Jason Rakers (1998-99)
Mark Watson (2000)
Alan Newman (2000)
Jason Phillips (2002-03)
Alex Herrera (2003)
Guillermo Mota (2006)
Matt Miller (2004-07)
Jon Meloan (2008)
Photo: David Maxwell/Getty Images
Miss out on our other Countdown pieces? Check out more Indians history below!
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 99 (Daniel Robertson)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 90 (Adam Cimber)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 88 (Phil Maton)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 77 (Jack Armstrong)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 76 (Tom Magrann)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 75 (Mike Walker)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 73 (Ricardo Rincon)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 72 (Jason Giambi)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 71 (Johnny Hodapp)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 70 (James Karinchak, George Kontos)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 69 (Luis Medina)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 68 (Jefry Rodriguez, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 67 (Aaron Civale, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 66 (Yasiel Puig, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 65 (Zach Plesac, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 64 (Tom Kramer, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 63 (Josh Smith, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 62 (Nick Wittgren, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 61 (Dan Otero, others)
Countdown to Indians’ 2020 Opening Day – 60 (Jhonny Peralta, others)