Carlos Carrasco had several chances to seize his rightful place in the Cleveland Indians’ starting rotation. In 2013, Carrasco faltered as a starter before being placed in the bullpen for the remainder of the season. In Spring Training this season, Carrasco, now out of Minor League options, was handed the fifth spot in the rotation with the hopes he would take it and run with it.
Once more, to the chagrin of the coaching staff and front office, he failed to retain his starting role. Carrasco has always had electric stuff. He was the key to the Cliff Lee deal in 2009, a strong right-handed arm with top-of-the-rotation potential. He frequently showed flashes of dominance, blowing his high 90s fastball past potent hitters like Miguel Cabrera and dancing his off-speed pitches across the plate.
Carrasco struggled with command and gave up homer after homer in the first month of the 2014 season before being moved to the bullpen once more. It looked like, as is the story with many pitchers, Carrasco simply did not have what it took to be a rotation mainstay for the Tribe. He had not won in his last 17 starts, compiling an abysmal 8.07 ERA. However, Carrasco was lights-out in the pen for the Indians for three months, serving mainly as a long man before eventually being eased into more stressful late-inning situations by Terry Francona.
All along, Carrasco maintained he would help the team however he could, though he admitted his long-term goal was to return to the rotation. When last Tuesday Josh Tomlin imploded early in the game against Cincinnati, Carrasco entered to pitch 4 1/3 scoreless innings, dazzling the coaching staff and earning the right to start Sunday at Yankee Stadium. He went on to throw five scoreless innings against the New York Yankees, carrying his confident bullpen dominance into the game for the first time as a starter.
Carrasco’s path back to the starting rotation mimics the road Indians third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall took to secure the starting third base role.
Chisenhall had been given multiple attempts to grab third base, but his play floundered each time he was handed the starting job. When Francona placed Chisenhall on the bench, his play finally improved enough to win third base back from Carlos Santana. Chisenhall had to have third base taken from him to perform at a high level. The bench motivated him, challenged him to reach his potential.
Similarly, Carrasco’s second bullpen stint ignited a fire, finally able to get comfortable against major-league hitting. Sunday, Carrasco made the Yankees impressive lineup look foolish until he was pulled after only 77 pitches.
The Indians desperately need stability in their starting rotation. Corey Kluber has been dominant, but the rest of the rotation has been a revolving door of mediocrity. If Carrasco can get stretched out and continue to command his electric stuff, he could help keep the Tribe in contention down the stretch, fortifying the rotation and giving Francona a second arm he can rely on every fifth day.
This time around, Carlos Carrasco appears poised, confident, and determined to stick in an Indians rotation in need of consistency. If he can become a rotation mainstay, the Cliff Lee deal will look much better for the Tribe, and the Indians’ bleak postseason chances may become a little brighter.