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Tribe Happenings: Carrasco likely out until 2013

September 11, 2011
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Carlos Carrasco will likely not return until
the start of the 2013 season. (Photo: AP)
Some news, notes and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Carrasco to have major surgery

The Indians got some bad news this week as after lots of tests and consultation with doctors it was decided that right-handed pitcher Carlos Carrasco would undergo ligament transplant surgery – more commonly known as Tommy John surgery – on his right elbow. He will have the surgery this coming Wednesday in New York and it will be performed by Dr. David Altcheck.

Carrasco, 24, has been bothered by the elbow for most of the season. After just five starts to open the season he was placed on the disabled list on April 28th with inflammation on his right elbow. He returned on May 11th and really looked to settle in with a great June going 4-2 with a 1.90 ERA in six starts.

But Carrasco’s struggles with the elbow started to return again in July, and it showed with his performance where in five July starts he went 0-5 with a 9.13 ERA. He made one final start on August 3rd against Boston and actually put forth his best outing since June when he went seven strong innings and allowed three runs, but a few days after the game he was placed on the disabled list with right elbow inflammation again. After he did not respond well to treatment he and the Indians searched for answers and ultimately the decision was made to have the Tommy John surgery.

According to head Indians trainer Lonnie Soloff, the MRI of Carrasco’s elbow showed that he had been pitching with a bad elbow for some time as it showed damage to the elbow from some time ago. Carrasco revealed to the Indians that he has actually hurt the elbow when he was 14 years old, but instead of any rehab or surgery he just stopped throwing for several weeks.

Amazingly, after that injury as a young kid Carrasco went on to get signed as a free agent by the Phillies at 16 years old and never showed signs of the injury while pitching in the minors. In a five year span from 2006 to 2010 he averaged 165 innings pitched a season, which is incredible considering almost all of that time was in the minors.

The injury was only found this season because Carrasco had issues with the elbow and supposedly this is the first time in his career he has ever had an MRI on his elbow. He never had an MRI when he signed with the Phillies and never had an MRI after that, even when he was traded to the Indians. Both the Phillies and Indians never knew of his condition until the problems with the elbow this season started to surface.

The surgery on Carrasco’s elbow this week will keep him out for 12-18 months. Every player responds differently to the surgery and some could be back as soon as 12 months - like Nationals’ right-handed pitcher Steven Strasburg. Others respond slower and some suffer setbacks along the way, so it is why his recovery process could take up to 18 months.

With the twelve month anniversary of the surgery to come next September and near the end of the 2012 season, Carrasco is expected to miss all of next season. If he pitches anywhere it will likely only be in a few rehab games in the minor leagues next September and then in fall or winter league action after the season. The hope is that with a whole offseason next year to continue his rehab that he will be ready to be an option for the starting rotation when spring training opens in 2013.

Lee trade blues

With Carlos Carrasco now undergoing major surgery on his elbow, the Indians have now lost two players to significant injury that they received from the Phillies in the Cliff Lee deal consummated back in July of 2009. The Indians received Carrasco, right-handed pitcher Jason Knapp, catcher Lou Marson and infielder Jason Donald in the trade.

The other player to suffer serious injury setbacks is Knapp who has had two major shoulder surgeries since the trade. He had one surgery in the fall of 2009 and then another this past June after he experienced more discomfort with his shoulder earlier in the year. The Indians are hopeful that Knapp will be 100% and ready to go at the start of next season, but with two shoulder surgeries on his resume his chances to make it to the big leagues are starting to look long.

With Carrasco and Knapp going down with serious injuries, a lot of people have declared the Lee trade a bust. From a results standpoint it is hard to argue against that; however, it does not mean the Indians made the wrong decisions at the time of the trade.

Prior to the injuries – which no team can predict – Carrasco was viewed as a near ready Major League starter who could be a good #2 or #3 starter in the big leagues. He showed that ability this season before succumbing to the injury. Knapp was viewed as the best or second best pitching prospect in the Phillies’ system at the time of the trade, and one of the best in all the minors. Marson has turned into one of the best defensive catchers in the bigs, and Donald is a solid infielder.

So why didn’t the Indians have an MRI on Carrasco or Knapp performed at the time of the trade?

The Indians - or any club in baseball for that matter - cannot perform an MRI on a player when they are acquired in a trade. When a player is signed as a free agent an MRI can be performed, but in a trade it cannot since the player is still the property of the other team. All the Indians or any other club can do in a trade is request all of the medical information the former club has on file, everything from doctor notes, x-rays, or previous MRIs that were done prior to the trade and then take all that information and have their doctors look over the information.

In addition to the information given to them by the other club, the Indians can give the player a thorough physical evaluation. After the physical and review of medical records, the doctors will either clear or not clear the player and based on that finding it is up to the front office to make a decision. In the case of Carrasco and Knapp they were both cleared by team doctors as there were absolutely no red flags, so the Indians okayed the trade.

As a result, the Indians had no idea how damaged Knapp’s shoulder or Carrasco’s elbow were. If the Indians could have had an MRI performed on them, trust me, they would have. It is just an unfortunate outcome for them with the trade, and another example of how there is never a guarantee with any player received in a trade.

Taking the bull by the horns

Much credit goes to the Detroit Tigers as they took matters into their own hands this past week and for all intents and purposes clinched the AL Central by sweeping the White Sox and Indians in back-to-back series’. While both the White Sox and Indians are both still alive mathematically, with a 9.5 game lead with less than three weeks left in the season the division race is over. It is but a matter of counting down the days until the Tigers officially clinch the division.

The amazing thing is going into the play on August 19th the Indians were 1.5 games out of first and tied in the loss column with the Tigers. The Indians and Tigers opened a three game series in Detroit that day and the Tigers swept the Indians right out of Motown and have been blazing hot ever since. Since August 19th the Tigers have gone 17-4 and the Indians have gone 9-13 pushing them from 1.5 games back to 10.0 games back in just three weeks.

The Tigers are a very talented team and look to have finally gotten things together. With Justin Verlander and that lineup coming together they could surely do some damage this offseason and are a team that should be a tough matchup for anyone this postseason.

The Indians on the other hand showed their youth and inexperience down the stretch, and injuries just eventually caught up with them. Even so, it has been a successful season and with a return to full health and a key move or two in the offseason should bring hope to a lot of people they can win the division next year.

Pomeranz and White in the big leagues

Right-handed pitcher Alex White has now made four starts for the Colorado Rockies at the big league level and has really struggled in the early going. In those four starts with the Rockies he is 2-1 with a 8.18 ERA, and in 22.0 innings he has allowed 27 hits (including NINE home runs!), 11 walks, and has 14 strikeouts.

Somehow, someway White has earned a win in each of his last two times out as on September 3rd he went just five innings and allowed four earned runs and then last night went five innings and allowed seven earned runs on five home runs.  He has been bothered with some command issues as he has not been able to consistently command his pitches in the zone which has resulted in a high walk rate (4.5 BB/9) and hit rate (11.1 H/9) and an outrageous home run rate (3.7 HR/9). The sample size is small, but surely the Rockies did not expect this from him in the early going and you really have to wonder how healthy that middle finger is.

Left-handed pitcher Drew Pomeranz has been called up by the Rockies and is expected to make his big league debut today. It is a surprising reversal of fortune as just last week he was expected to be done for the season after having an emergency appendectomy, but he recovered well and has been able to get back on the mound much sooner than expected.

Pomeranz has only made two appearances in the Rockies’ minor league system since being acquired from the Indians on July 30th (officially on August 15th). In those two outings he has been dominant throwing a combined ten shutout innings allowing just two hits and no walks while striking out seven. He has just five appearances above the Single-A level, so it is interesting to see the Rockies push him up so quickly, especially this late in the season.

Remembering 9/11

Today marks the ten year anniversary since the horrific events that transpired on September 11, 2001. It is a day that no American that was old enough to witness it will ever forget, and today we honor all those who perished that day. Additionally, I’d also like to thank all of those in the military as well as all of the police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and so on who continue to put their lives on the line everyday for us.

Parting shots

Designated hitter Travis Hafner has been taking part in a running program as he continues to work his was back from his right foot injury. If he continues to respond well to treatment there is a chance he could be activated sometime this week. … Right-handed pitcher Josh Tomlin got the all clear on Wednesday that his right elbow is okay to begin a throwing program. The Indians are hopeful that he will be back to pitch before the end of the season, though with the recent bout of injuries you have to wonder if they are playing with fire here and it best to just shut him down. ... Outfielder Shin-Soo Choo is responding well to treatment on his oblique injury and is expected to return to the lineup this week, possibly at the start of the Rangers series on Tuesday.

Follow Tony and the Indians Prospect Insider on Twitter @TonyIPI. Also, his latest book the 2011 Cleveland Indians Top 100 Prospects & More is available for purchase for $20.95 to customers in the US (shipping and handling extra). Use discount code 2Z6F362B to receive 40% off the book through the site store!

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