Second Thoughts: Carrasco to the rescue
Carlos Carrasco has passed the first test in his return to the starting rotation.
It seems likely he’ll get an extended look there as yet another opportunity for him to establish himself as a starting pitcher. While it’s been a long time since Carrasco has had the success he had on Sunday, this isn’t the first time he’s pitched well as a starter. In June of 2011 Carrasco posted a 1.90 ERA in 42.2 innings just before going down with Tommy John surgery. Along with his talented right arm, that’s the reason why the Indians have continued to give him opportunities in the rotation.
Since recovering, Carrasco has struggled with some mental hurdles - composure, control, anxiety, etc. The stuff has been there, but the tools that are needed to tie it together have been lacking. It’s no secret that the more simple things are, the more successful Carrasco has been. For example, even as a starter he’s pitching out of the stretch. We’ve also heard numerous times that one of the reasons he’s been more successful in the bullpen is that he doesn’t know when he’s going to pitch next and can’t overthink or stress over that next appearance.
After his start on Sunday, Carrasco has us hoping again that those issues are behind him and we’re on the cusp of seeing the pitcher we always thought he could be.
In a perfect world, Carrasco is on his way down a path once travelled by Jake Westbrook. People forget that it took Westbrook three years to nail down a rotation spot with the Indians. Like Carrasco, he bounced back and forth from the disabled list, to the minors, to the bullpen, and to the rotation over his first three years as an Indian. In 2004 he lost out on a rotation spot to Jeff D’Amico and Jason Stanford. Three months later he would represent the Indians as an American League All-Star.
It wasn’t just D’Amico and Stanford that beat out Westbrook that year. Chad Durbin was the last pitcher fighting with Stanford for the fifth starter spot and Jason Bere was in the mix as well. Westbrook was out of options, couldn’t break the team’s rotation, and so he found himself back in the bullpen and running out of chances with the team. Then in relief of a Jeff D’Amico start where he failed to record an out, Westbrook threw seven perfect innings of long relief and quickly found himself back in the rotation. He would go on to become a fixture there for the next five years before eventually being traded for Corey Kluber.
That’s the thing about baseball. Some players ‘find it’ later than others. It wasn’t that long ago that people were writing off Lonnie Chisenhall. You can’t always wait on players. For a player who has seemingly run out of chances it takes the right mix of opportunity and success to come back from the fringes.
Back in 2004 Jake Westbrook got his opportunity because of injury and ineffectiveness from Stanford and D’Amico, and then he performed. In 2014, Carrasco is getting his opportunity because of the ineffectiveness ofJosh Tomlin, Zach McAllister, and to a lesser degree Danny Salazar. As bad as the starting pitchers not named Corey Kluber have been, the team has nothing to lose inserting Carrasco back into the rotation. Now he just has to perform.
The early returns are obviously encouraging, but I’ll offer the disclaimer that we didn’t really see Carrasco challenged on Sunday. That’s going to be the big test. I want to see how he responds after giving up a couple of runs in an inning. Is he able to limit damage, or will the big inning plague him like it has in the past? The other thing that has hurt Carrasco as a starter is the second and third time around a lineup. This is one of the hardest things for any starter, but the longer Carrasco has been exposed the harder he’s been hit.
His fastball-slider combination are good pitches. Those are the pitches he used the heavy majority of the time out of the bullpen with great success. In terms of pitch value, his slider is one of the best in baseball. His two-seam fastball helps him achieve a groundball rate of over 50%, a great number for a pitcher. The difference now is that as a starter Carrasco is going to have to effectively mix in his changeup and curveball to be less predictable to hitters.
Corey Kluber is a similar pitcher in terms of repertoire. Kluber barely throws his changeup against right-handed hitters. It’s a pitch whose purpose is to neutralize left handers. Carrasco is the same way. His slider is his best pitch, but it’s not a great offering against lefties. Therefore, he has to rely on the changeup. Kluber has found success against lefties mixing in his changeup and cutter. Carrasco’s changeup isn’t as good. With that said, it should come as no surprise that he’s struggled against lefties during his career.
This is meant to show that there is still a lot of work to be done on Carrasco’s end. There are still mental hurdles that need to be cleared. From a stuff standpoint, he needs to continue refining his changeup. If he’s able to stick in the rotation long-term, I would also have some concerns about his durability. Overall, these aren’t huge issues that should prevent him from establishing himself as a starter. There’s still a lot to like about him.
Carrasco has a deep pitch arsenal, generates plenty of groundballs, and possesses a legitimate strikeout pitch in his slider. That’s a great canvas to work with if you’re the Cleveland Indians. The rotation options are bleak, not just right now, but even moving into next year. Carlos Carrasco provides plenty of hope, but unfortunately as a starter that’s all he’s ever provided.
Under different circumstances, Carrasco wouldn’t be receiving this opportunity. Like Westbrook a decade ago, let’s hope that the opportunity turns into success and Carrasco is a fixture in the rotation for years to come.
There are no guarantees, but , a return to the starting rotation would be HUGE for the young wahoo pitching staff...