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Tribe Happenings: Carrasco still has some growing up to do

Tribe Happenings: Carrasco still has some growing up to do
April 14, 2013
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Some news, notes, and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

Carrasco lacks mental toughness

Right-handed pitcher Carlos Carrasco has been a high profile starting pitching prospect for a long time.  Before the Indians picked him up from the Phillies in July of 2009 in a deal for Cliff Lee he had been one of the Phillies’ top prospects for several years.

But for as talented as Carrasco is and how highly he has been viewed as a “prospect”, the one thing that has always stuck with him as a negative and has been hard to shake is his image as a pitcher that lacks much toughness and maturity on the mound.

When the Indians first acquired Carrasco the scouting reports raved at his stuff as he had a very good three pitch mix, mid-90s fastball and the ability to be a frontline starting pitcher. He pitched great in low pressure situations and could dominate any game, but he often found himself struggling in big situations or when things began to unravel for him in an inning.  Once the hits, walks, or poor play behind him began to pile up behind him, he lacked the ability to tough it out and battle his way through an inning to limit the damage.  As a result, one or two run innings turned into three or four run innings or more.

So far in his Indians career Carrasco has shown some impressive stuff. He has the ability to dominate any game and at any moment because he has the repertoire to get a lot of swing and miss and overpower a lineup. But like his time with the Phillies, he has also shown many moments where he lacks the toughness or maturity to be a high level Major League starting pitcher because he lacks the toughness to “battle” and the maturity to overcome tough situations.

There is no greater example of Carrasco’s still undeveloped maturity than his headhunting ways over the past few years.

Back on July 29, 2011 against the Royals, Carrasco allowed a grand slam home run to Melky Cabrera in the fourth inning. On the next pitch he went high and to the head of Billy Butler and ended up being ejected. The incident earned him a six-game suspension which he initially appealed, but he ended up hurting his elbow a few days later and had Tommy John surgery and thus missed most of the last two months of the 2011 season and all of the 2012 season. His sentence had to wait until he returned to the active 25-man roster.

Finally healthy this spring, the Indians finagled the 25-man roster at the outset of this season so that Carrasco could serve that six-game suspension and be done with it so that they could use him when they pleased this season. Once the suspension was over and with lefty Scott Kazmir temporarily sidelined, the Indians gave him the opportunity to showcase what he could do so that they could consider him for a rotation spot now or in the not too distant future.  He was completely healthy, his velocity was up from previous levels, and he looked poised to breakout.

So, in his first start back, what did Carrasco do?  He gave up a two run homer to Robinson Cano in the fourth inning on Tuesday night making the score 7-0 Yankees, and then on the next pitch he went high and tight to Kevin Youkilis and got him in the left shoulder/neck area. The pitch and where it was located caught the ire of the home plate umpire who immediately tossed Carrasco out of the game without even giving a warning.

And with that, Carrasco showed he still lacked the maturity and toughness needed to pitch in the big leagues. It is one thing to brush a player back in certain situations, but you can’t go headhunting just because you served up a big home run. If you don’t want guys hitting home runs, make better pitches, don’t go throwing at people’s heads.

In response to the beaning, Major League Baseball handed down an eight-game suspension on Friday, which means that all the work the Indians did with working through Carrasco’s last suspension all went for naught. The Indians used the unique opportunity that is the first week of the season to work through the roster issues to get him on the roster and serve the suspension, and they managed to do so at the expense of a roster spot and played a man short for the first week of the season.  That is something that is much easier done in the first week of the season and the Indians looked to be in the clear until his blunder on Tuesday night.

The Indians are now forced with the daunting task of working around yet another suspension for Carrasco. He was supposed to get at least two starts before Kazmir came back, but before the suspension was even handed down the Indians optioned him to Triple-A Columbus. Some of this was because of need as the Indians needed a spot starter for Wednesday after righty Brett Myers – the original scheduled starter for Wednesday – had to come in long relief for Carrasco on Tuesday. But you have to believe another reason for optioning out Carrasco was because of some disgust in his performance and mound antics.

Going forward, whether or not Carrasco gets his suspension reduced a few games or not, he is still going to end up with a long enough suspension which will make it hard for the Indians to work around it and have him serve it without disrupting the roster in Cleveland in a significant way.  At this point that is going to be difficult, and until the Indians figure out how to get him on the 25-man roster so he can serve the suspension, he simply is not an option to pitch for them at the Major League level.

It is important to note that once the suspension starts it must be served in full and cannot be broken up. So the Indians simply can’t call him up to fill a spot on the roster and in the starting rotation for four days and when his turn comes up option him out and add a starter – and then callup Carrasco at a later date. Also, don’t forget about the ten-day rule which prevents the Indians from calling him back up to Cleveland until he has spent ten days in the minors unless of course there is a situation where a player is placed on the disabled list. Last, remember, when serving his suspension he cannot be replaced on the roster and the Indians play a man short at 24 players.

Considering how the Indians will be much less inclined to play a bullpen or bench player short for eight straight games in the middle part of the season, it is safe to say that Carrasco may have punched his ticket to Triple-A for the rest of the season. There are some opportunities where the Indians could move around some players and have Carrasco serve his suspension right away so that he can be an option as the season progresses, but I am not sure the Indians are going to work through those options unless they find they are desperate for starting pitching.

Given the difficulty in getting Carrasco on the roster and the possibility that Terry Francona and the Indians front office are probably not too happy with him right now, chances are he won’t come back up until September when rosters expand and he can easily be added to the roster and serve his suspension then. There is no doubt that Francona was a bit perturbed with Carrasco after his showing on Tuesday night, and not to mention he took a cheap shot at one of his former “boys” in third baseman Kevin Youkilis.

Carrasco can continue to pitch in the minors while his suspension looms, but once he is called up to Cleveland he has to start serving the suspension right away. In the meantime, he should have a chance to settle in at Columbus, get some rhythm going, show he is healthy, and most importantly start taking the steps to show that he has taken a clear step forward with his maturity. That along with that mound presence and toughness are the missing ingredients to making him a very good starting pitcher in the Major Leagues for a long time.

Kipnis’ struggles continue

We are only 10 games into the season, but there should be concern for second baseman Jason Kipnis.

In eight games this season Kipnis is hitting .125 with 0 HR, 2 RBI and .390 OPS. That’s obviously an extremely small sample size to base anything on, but the problem is his performance over the last nine months has been anything but positive. In 21 spring training games this year he hit .179 with 2 HR, 7 RBI, and .569 OPS, and in the second half of last season he hit .233 with 3 HR, 27 RBI and .651 OPS in 69 games after the All Star break.

That’s a pretty large and extended sample size of struggles, and it makes you wonder if Kipnis continues to struggle at the outset of the season if the Indians may option him out to Triple-A Columbus. He has options and they have a more than capable replacement in infielder Mike Aviles already on the roster, plus they have infielder Cord Phelps waiting around for an opportunity in Columbus.

A Kipnis for Phelps swap between Cleveland and Columbus is not as far-fetched as it maybe seems. Phelps had an impressive showing in spring training .375 with 3 HR, 7 RBI and 1.142 OPS, and has always been a solid performer offensively in the minors but just never had the chance to get extended playing time at the Major League level. He has not played for Columbus yet because of a stiff neck, but when he starts playing he should be the regular second baseman there again and they also plan to have him play some first base and left field to add to his versatility.

If Phelps is performing well a few weeks from now and Kipnis is still struggling, it is certainly plausible that the Indians could option out Kipnis and callup Phelps, and then move Aviles into the starting second base role and have Phelps slide into Aviles’ utility role.

As for Kipnis, it is hard to say what his problem is. The defense has been solid, but at the plate he looks like a guy that is thinking way too much and has lost his comfort level.  That’s a tough way to hit. It is also possible that his contract issues have had an effect on his play. He and the Indians were discussing a long term deal this spring, but they broke off talks once the season began in order for it not to be a distraction. But what if it is still a distraction because he is thinking about having to perform so much in order to get the deal he wants?

Kipnis has been bothered with a left elbow issue this season, one that bothered him some in spring training and how has him sidelined for a few days. It is possible that is affecting his performance some and it may be a bigger issue than anyone knows at this point.

But if Kipnis is healthy and continues to struggle, he could get the Asdrubal Cabrera treatment in 2008. Indians fans may recall that after Cabrera had a nice showing in his debut with the Indians in 2007 as a late season callup hitting .283 with 3 HR, 22 RBI and .775 OPS in 45 games he was optioned to the minors the next season.  He really struggled the first two months of the 2008 season and was hitting just .184 with a .527 OPS on June 8th that season when the Indians optioned him to Triple-A Buffalo. He went down to Buffalo, found his swing again, and was back up on July 18th and has since permanently put the minors in his rearview mirror.

Whether or not it gets to that point with Kipnis for him to get the Cabrera treatment remains to be seen, but there is certainly a precedent for it and the Indians do have options at their disposal to replace him so he can take a step away and get things back in order. That may be what it ultimately comes to if his early season struggles persist.

Catching carousel

The Indians have already worked in four catchers into games just 10 games into the season.

Regular catcher Carlos Santana bruised his left thumb when he and closer Chris Perez got crossed up on a pitch on Sunday. He has not played since and was expected to play on Saturday, but after experiencing some discomfort with the thumb after batting practice he told team personnel and they promptly removed him from the starting lineup. It is unknown at this point when he will return, but with an off day on Monday, the Indians will probably sit him on Sunday and give him two more days or rest before reassessing him and the roster on Tuesday.

Regular backup catcher Lou Marson was placed on the 15-day disabled list on Monday with a cervical neck strain. The injury was a result of the nasty collision he had at home plate last Friday night in Tampa. He did not suffer a concussion and probably could have played through the injury, but once Santana got dinged up the Indians needed roster space to add some catching alternatives.

With Santana and Marson both temporarily sidelined, the Indians have turned to Triple-A catchers Yan Gomes and Omir Santos, calling them both up on Monday. Teams rarely callup both Triple-A catchers in the first week of the season, but that was deemed necessarily with the injuries the Indians suffered to the catching corps.

The injuries actually have allowed the Indians a unique opportunity to give Gomes some extended playing time at the big league level. His bat is solid but it is the defense which is still a work in progress. The Indians had hoped to let him play the first few months in Columbus before considering him as a Major League option, but the injuries forced the issue and he is sort of learning on the job in Cleveland.

Once Santana is healthy and ready to assume full time catching duties, the Indians will no longer have a need for three catchers. When that time comes, I would expect Gomes to be the one optioned out to Columbus and Santos to stay on the roster as the backup. Gomes needs to play every day and continue to develop his catching while Santos can stick around as the backup and get his four to six at bats a week.

Parting shots

The Indians called up lefty Nick Hagadone on Thursday and optioned out righty Corey Kluber – who had been called up for Carlos Carrasco on Wednesday. The Indians also placed righty Matt Albers on paternity leave and activated first baseman Jason Giambi from the 15-day disabled list. The Indians will need to add Albers back to the roster on Tuesday, so someone in the bullpen will be optioned out. … The Indians have rescheduled the postponed games with the Yankees from April 10th and 11th as part of a traditional doubleheader on May 13th. Tickets dated for the April 10th game are valid for both games, with the first game set for 12:05 PM. Tickets dated for the April 11th game can be exchanged for an available seat to any game including the May 13th doubleheader. …. With his two-run homer in the first inning on Saturday, first baseman Nick Swisher has now tied Michael Young for the longest hitting streak in Progressive Field history at 20 games.

Follow Tony and the Indians Baseball Insider on Twitter @TonyIBI. Also, his new book the 2014 Cleveland Indians Baseball Insider which profiles the Indians' Top 100 Prospects and more is available for sale.

User Comments

April 15, 2013 - 2:31 PM EDT
The Sale pitches were both at the body. But it's not like a hit to the hand can't cause some major damage, just ask Choo. Again, it was a few years ago, but I don't recall Buehrle being suspended for hitting Hafner in the face. High and inside pitches happen, some are intentional and some aren't. The problem is ascribing intent to one pitcher and not another, and basing a punishment off of it, when intent is unknowable. Yes, Carrasco's pitch was high, but if it wasn't actually intentional, how does this matter? Is he never allowed to miss up and in again in his career or he's going to be automatically suspended? Jaret Wright is another Indians pitcher who I recall being singled out and essentially told he couldn't pitch inside because he hit a few batters. But other pitchers are free to do so, because they don't have this reputation. Every pitcher if they throw enough pitches will miss in the same area where Carrasco hit Youkilis.

And I don't disagree with your assessment Tony, that he needs to control his emotions. Either he did intentionally throw at Youkilis, or he lost concentration, overthrew and missed wildly, so in either case it's a situation where he needs to recover from adversity better. My problem is MLB applying inconsistent punishment. Quentin blatantly assaults Greinke and breaks his collarbone and he gets 8 games, Sale hits two Indians and gets 0 games, Choo's hand is broken and Sanchez gets 0 games, Hafner's hit in the face and Buehrle gets 0 games, while Carrasco's suspended a combined 13 games for a pitch that went over Butler's head and another that hit Youkilis. He's not the only guy who ever threw a pitch high and inside, but I don't see other pitchers getting suspensions for it when it happens. When suspensions of pitchers do occur, it's usually when a warning was already issued, and then another batter's hit.
April 15, 2013 - 11:06 AM EDT
the strike zone has 4 quadrants if they take away the top inside quadrant on carrasco (He of the less than 200 innings, how do you get a reputation based on less than 200 innings unless the commissioner or torre or the amazing kreskin) dont throw labels around i feel that craig biggio wasnt admitted to the hall of fame for playing in PED period. Again if they is some sort of indication of PED user or head hunter fine but dont innuendo to indict. a common criminal who robs a convenience store seems to have more right to plead their case carlos can of course but he will still get $3,000 fine and at least 5 games suspention. Does that mean he is 62.5% guilty or is that just MLB flexing its muscle. When a pitcher is all over the place and is when throwing a strike on the middle of the plate like carlos was his command and control have issues. Have them view the entire game and watch where carlos santana was calling for the location of the pitch and where it ended up you will see carrasco had a tough command issue that night and give him the benefit of the doubt but MLB and their enormous egos wont let them do that
April 15, 2013 - 10:32 AM EDT
I didn't see Sale's start or the batters he hit, but where did he hit them? Did he hit them below the chest in the ribs, lower back or thigh area? Or did he throw at their heads? That's the clear distinction. The game "allows" it when pitchers hit guys like that so long as they are not throwing at someone's head. Once they go sniping for the head, it is a whole new ballgame and the punishment and reaction is MUCH different.

Once Santana is ready, Gomes is expected to be optioned out so he can play everyday in CBus. But I don't foresee Albers coming back anytime soon, so maybe the Indians option our Gomes and callup another pitcher (Barnes) while Albers is still away from the team.
April 14, 2013 - 8:47 PM EDT
Harvey was inconsistent in college. Some thought he end up as a CL. I thought he'd make a good SP, maybe a 2 in the rotation. He's exceeding that, the Mets have done well developing him - as another posted noted. Just think they have Zack Wheeler coming behind him.
April 14, 2013 - 7:33 PM EDT
Shorting the yen, Pomeranz went from 95 to 89 within 18 months of signing a contract. Considering the trouble his older brother ( also a pitcher )had gotten into- 99MPH to felony charges and incarceration, they should have asked Drew for a drug test before they drafted him. If he refused fine, he would have been someone else's poor first round choice and maybe the Indians would have taken Harvey and not ended up w Wildbaldo. I didn't follow Harvey in college, but he looks the real deal now; he's from Connecticut, maybe they have more discreet PED labs there. As far as the yen goes, there are too many people on the island, the percentage of aging and elderly is even higher than the U.S., the birth rate lags the death rate, and there is no immigration- young upwardly mobile workers who buy stuff. Stagnant to declining is the best way to describe them. I don't think loose monetary policy will help but it will probably take them a while longer to figure that out so you're short is probably ok for now.
April 14, 2013 - 3:23 PM EDT

Yeah, I guess but it still shows a pattern of not doing a good job of evaluating talent. Floor vs Ceiling. Taking Pomeranz over Harvey is from from the worst move they have made in the draft. There were years we whiffed on top picks again and again.

I want Mark Appeal in this years draft. Why? Because he could help in the pen in September if everything goes perfect. But more important I could see him being a mid to back of the rotation starter as early as sometime next year.

Trade Ascab and Perez and a prospect for someone like Zach Lee of The Dodgers.

That way next year we could have the pitching we need.


Sign a project like maybe Johan Santana. All of a sudden we have a nice and deep rotation to go with everything else.

If we can't get Appeal then I would like Frazier-Grey-Mannaea-Meadows. I assume we should be able to get one of those guys.

Still Shorting the Yen
April 14, 2013 - 1:55 PM EDT
Blaming the Indians for taking Pomeranz over Matt Harvey is silly at this point. Harvey had a lot of inconsistencies in college and needed work. Had the Indians drafted Harvey, there's no telling that he'd have turned out the way he has with the Mets b/c their pitching instructors have done a very good job with him.
April 14, 2013 - 1:14 PM EDT
The whole Carrasco thing is making me sick for many different reasons.

Shy, Didn't know Matt Harvey was still on the board with Pomeranz. I know this happens sometimes but it seems to have happend for the last 10 to 15 years for the Indians. They have a very high and important draft pick this season. They need to ignore anyone who has been drafting for them the past 10 years and hire new guys or do it themselves or I have no idea SOMETHING different. I am getting sick and tired of whoever does the Indians drafting. Not only do they seem to miss alot but they also miss high talent players who they could have picked. Its obvious they just suck at their job.

Now, to be somewhat fair it has gotten better the last few seasons. So, maybe some changes were already made. They need to take this draft seriously though. I don't want to look back in 3 years see our player traded for a journeyman bullpen arm and couple guys we could have had at the front of rotations. Look at Tampa look at Nationals teams that know how to draft win. Its simple.

April 14, 2013 - 11:42 AM EDT
Unless you contend that you know Carlos Carrasco's and Chris Sale's thoughts, then yes, reputation is amorphous. You think the Carrasco is a headhunter because he intentionally hit Youkilis (he didn't actually hit Butler, the pitch went over Butler's head), but you have to admit that it is also plausible that he legitimately missed, in which case, he was not actually headhunting, and you've given him the label erroneously. Being that there is no possible way you, or anyone other than the pitcher who threw the ball can know for sure the intention, the rules need to be applied consistently. If it's hitting the guy in the head that's the problem, I don't recall Buehrle getting suspended or being labelled a headhunter after he hit Hafner in the face. But again, Carrasco is because he threw one high and tight that missed Butler. You have, not just the appearance of bias, but actual bias when you're punishing the Indians and Carrasco one way, and then punishing the White Sox and Buerhle differently, for what is essentially the same action (since Sale hit 2 batters, you could argue that his action was actually more deserving of ejection and suspension)

I don't know anything about Carrasco's history in the minors, I know Tony alluded to this. What specifically did he do? I know with the Phillies the concern with him was something along the lines of controlling his emotions and maintaining composure, but I was under the impression this had more to do with letting innings spiral out of control when he was faced with adversity, not something like "headhunting."
April 14, 2013 - 11:19 AM EDT
Carrasco has a rep w the umps now, a bad rep so he is not going to get any breaks. The guys w good command and good temperaments get breaks both on ball/strike calls and occasional mistakes. the guys w bad command and bad temperaments don't. Like Tony says, Carrasco has to grow up and take responsibility for his pitches and his actions. He is going to have to prove to the umpires he has changed if he wants to catch a break.
As for Kipnis, I am right w Tony disappointed in the numbers second half last year and so far this Spring. I think Francona and front office and teammates really like him- they see him as a gritty, athletic, passionate Pedroia type who can anchor an infield, and spark an offense. I think they are going to give him every chance to make the adjustments at the Jake. He's young, he went thru the minors pretty fast, and the pitchers have a book on him now, but I think he can make the adjustments. The one caveat I guess you always have to consider when you have a dramatic change in numbers is the possibility of PED's influencing previous performance. Kipnis LOOKS the same to me as when he came up, but the way the entire 2011 Columbus team looked second half and in the playoffs, it was like something was in the water. I think he can still have a very good year. That said, Dan Straily is still out there- in one start for the A's and one for the Rivercats, he has pitched 11 innings, given up 1 run, 5 hits and struck out 18. The A's need a second baseman w Sizemore injured, and they need another catcher. We have plenty of depth at both positions. Did anybody watch Matt Harvey pitch last night? He was still on the board in 2010 draft when the Indians took Pomeranz. And what about the kid from Single A who pitched for the Marlins- Jose Fernandez? What a curveball! BTW the Indians beating two upper echelon lefties like Quintana and Sale back to back is something they could not have done past couple of years. McCallister and Masterson were brilliant and determined to give their team a chance to win- and they did. Excellent job!
April 14, 2013 - 11:19 AM EDT
Couldn't disagree more Seth. ...."basing discipline on something as amorphous as 'reputation..."

What? There is nothing amorphous about Carrasco problem. Nobody is picking on him or the Tribe for that matter. He is a textbook example of a Headhunter.

Tony's article is spot on. The guy has talent but is wasting it because he has mental issues. Period. He is a job for a professional to get it fixed.

I want'ed to indulge in the same kind of excuse last time when he was comming off his best string of starts - one of the biggest pleasant surprise in an otherwise dismal season. He hit Butler (here comes the excuse) BECAUSE he was pitching hurt AND IN THE END NEEDED TOMMY JOHN.

The fact is Carrasco has been doing this during his entire professional career. He gets frustrated and looses it and the next batter in the box gets one at the head.

It's easy to get lulled into excuses with this guy because he has the talent to be an excellent top of the rotation guy - on a team who badly needs one - and who was a centerpiece in the Cliff Lee deal.

All issues the authorities at MLB don't give squat about. For good reason.

I am pleased they didn't pass. It's the best thing that could happen to Carrasco. He needs a sports shrink. And if he indulges his macho latino 'who me' attitude - then he can serve as a high profile example of tremedous talent wasted because of 'old school' logic.

He should (or his agent) ask Scott Kazmir home much fun it is working for peanuts in semi-pro.
April 14, 2013 - 11:17 AM EDT
my blog of yesterday pretty well shows my feelings however we should not start to label anyone a head hunter MLB seems to have with carlos however we dont have to jump on the bandwagon. Do I agree that carlos needs to develop self disipline yes do i think he is a head hunter no! However that being said sometimes i think the players union should stand on principal and defend carlos if he says he wasnt throwing at Youk then so be it. Instead of trying to appease MLB and have the suspention reduced to say 6 games isnt the answer. MLB is not infallable they may have made rash judgement and the lil pop on youk's shoulder did cost carlos 3K which is serious money on his minimal salary. Lets pray that carlos gets some needed maturity in columbus and and cooler heads prevail in the appeal. Otherwise this as i said yesterday results in a 13 inch plate for carlos and 17 for everyone. Where is the integrity of the game there.
April 14, 2013 - 11:13 AM EDT
Is it possible that Gomes is optioned out Tuesday for Albers if Santana is ready to play? Then use an 8 man bullpen and option one out for Kazmir Saturday. Also gives you more time to evaluate Allen to make decision on who to send down.
League Park
April 14, 2013 - 10:34 AM EDT
Total lack of consistency or common sense by MLB. They even warned the Indians dugout after Brantley was hit. Sorry, but if you get plunked you have the right to do it back. That usually ends things and is the game self-policed itself. Just like in the NHL, the league wants to play big brother and interfere with the game.
April 14, 2013 - 10:20 AM EDT
I still have a problem with this suspension, especially the length. Yesterday Sale hit Swisher with a pitch that I thought was intentional, Swisher had hit a HR and almost had another with the double, 1b was open in a 1-run game and it made sense to at minimum pitch around Swisher in that situation, and Sale immediately plunks him. Gives up a grand slam, and immediately hits Brantley. So, the guy who hasn't pitched in the majors for 1.5 years and had Tommy John surgery didn't just overthrow, slip, and miss, and gets suspended, but Sale hits 2 of 3 Indians in a situation where both had just as much of an appearance of intention as Carrasco, and he isn't ejected from the game. Carrasco threw over a guy's head once, so he's never allowed to miss inside again? But Sale can continue hitting whoever, because he doesn't have this "reputation", even though for all we know, being that we're not mind-readers, Sale actually has intended to hit multiple batters and Carrasco's never intentionally hit a batter? Basing discipline on something as amorphous as "reputation" is dangerous, and isn't something MLB, or any business, should be doing.

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