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Tribe Happenings: Cautious optimism after Carrasco outing

Tribe Happenings: Cautious optimism after Carrasco outing
Carlos Carrasco (Photo: AP)
August 11, 2014
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Some news, notes and thoughts from my Indians notebook…

An encouraging outing from Carrasco

Before we get ahead of ourselves, let’s remember that it was just one start for right-hander Carlos Carrasco. That he was facing a weakened Yankees lineup. That in times of desperation we often don’t see things for what they are.

That having been said, color me extremely encouraged by the outing that Carrasco put forth in his first start since being reinserted into the rotation. He went out and threw five shutout innings, threw 51 of his 77 pitches for strikes (66.2%) and allowed just two total baserunners on two base hits. It was only five innings, but it was a nice start in his return to the rotation and one that brings some cautious excitement about what he can do going forward.

Lord knows the Indians could use a boost in the rotation. Corey Kluber is pitching at a CY Young level right now, but the rest of the four spots in the rotation have been inconsistent all year. Sure, there is massive upside from the likes of Trevor Bauer and Danny Salazar, and while both have made their fair share of good outings this season, their youth and inexperience has shown with their inconsistency. So if what Carrasco showed on Sunday is real, then bully for the Indians.

Now, I know there are a lot of people out there saying, “See, I told you the Indians never should have removed him from the rotation so quickly this season.” In part, these people are right in a way, but I think they are forgetting that Carrasco’s work in the bullpen may have been what was needed to be the spark to ignite his talent once and for all.

Carrasco won the fifth starter job out of spring training, but struggled right out of the gates going 0-3 with a 6.95 ERA in four starts. The Indians quickly demoted him to the bullpen where he was barely used and pitched sparingly in long relief. He took the demotion well and while he was barely used the first several weeks in the bullpen, he worked a lot behind the scenes with his work in his bullpens, pre-game and when he got into a game.

There has never been a question of Carrasco’s stuff as it is some of the best stuff in the game. The problem has been the consistency of it, how he handled pressure situations and finding a consistent routine. It appears he found the answers to all three of those issues in the bullpen as he went 3-1 with a 2.30 ERA in 26 appearances out of the bullpen, and in 43.0 innings allowed 34 hits, 3 homers, 9 walks and had 39 strikeouts.

The Indians maintain that the biggest key to Carrasco’s turnaround is him finding a consistent routine, something they often preach to young minor leaguers and have as part of a development plan throughout their time in the minors. It’s the basic framework from which all pitchers work from, but so many have problems finding and as a result lack consistent success. Perhaps it just took him a little bit longer to find a routine that works for him.

Then again, perhaps Carrasco’s nice start on Sunday and good showing out of the bullpen is merely a mirage and his troubles will resurface in his next start or two.

We won’t know for sure one way or the other as we really can’t trust anything with Carrasco right now given his spotty history. But considering the Indians position at the moment and lack of starting pitching alternatives, the Indians at this point have no choice but to see him out the rest of the season as a starter. When the dust settles, the Indians will have 8-10 total starts the last two months of the season from which to grade him on and should have a good idea of whether he is someone who they can rely on as a rotation arm to begin next season.

Some pitchers take time to find themselves. Corey Kluber was never a top 10 prospect and was mostly a forgotten man when he took a full time rotation spot in April of last year. He long was considered a guy that the organization viewed as having incredible stuff but he just never put it together and his outings were inconsistent as a result. Eventually, it just clicked and the talent is showing itself now.

Perhaps Carrasco’s tenure in the bullpen is what helped things “click” for him. Time will tell.

A look at Walters

The Indians placed both outfielder David Murphy (abdominal strain) and first baseman and outfielder Nick Swisher (right knee soreness) on the disabled list on Sunday. Murphy came up lame after a swing on Saturday and Swisher re-aggravated his troublesome knee in the same game as well. The Indians added Tyler Holt andZach Walters to the 25-man roster to replace them.

Holt is not expected to be around very long and is more an extra outfielder on the bench until Michael Bournreturns. If all goes well with his rehab assignment to Triple-A Columbus, Bourn could be back on Friday when the Indians take on the Orioles at Progressive Field – maybe even sooner.  As for Walters, this will give the Indians a chance to get a look at the recently acquired slugger in the trade with the Nationals in exchange for shortstopAsdrubal Cabrera.

Walters, 24, brings some Major League experience as he played in 41 games with the Nationals over two seasons hitting .220 with 3 HR, 6 RBI and .764 OPS. He also brings a lot of versatility as he can handle third base, shortstop, second base and even some outfield. While he has very limited exposure to the outfield, the Indians inserted him without hesitation in left field on Sunday versus the Yankees and they feel he can adequately play there.

While Swisher is out this gives the Indians an opportunity to get a long look at Walters. They have all of the reports from their scouts and such when they required him, but the Major League staff has yet to really get a chance to work with him or see him play so this is a learning experience for all involved. With Swisher out for at least two weeks, probably longer, the Indians can mix Walters into the lineup on a regular basis at many different positions and against many different pitchers since he switch hits.

Also, considering how much Swisher has struggled this season with a -1.7 WAR – which is the worst WAR number for qualified players in all of baseball – how can Walters be any worse? Swisher’s injury is a convenient way for the Indians to rest a significantly underperforming cog on the team who actually may help them by not playing. At the same time, they get a glimpse into the future and get to look under the hood at the same time at what kind of player they got in a recent trade.

So long Pestano

On Thursday the Indians traded right-handed reliever Vinnie Pestano to the Angels for right-handed pitching prospect Michael Clevinger.

Pestano had a nice career with the Indians. He pitched four seasons in the minors from 2007-2010 appearing in 166 games and went 7-10 with a 2.55 ERA, 71 saves and 185 strikeouts in 173.0 innings. He was brilliant with the Indians as their primary setup man in 2011-2012 going 4-5 with a 2.50 ERA, and in 137.0 innings allowed 98 hits and had 168 strikeouts. Everything fell apart for him last season when he pitched for Team USA in the Word Baseball Classic, hurt his elbow a month into the season and was never the same after that.

Pestano’s health has been in question ever since as he has seen a sharp decline in his velocity and the quality of his stuff. He was optioned to Triple-A Columbus late last season and was limited to just three outings with the Indians the rest of the season. After a tough arbitration hearing this February and a quick demotion to Columbus barely a few games into the season, the writing was on the wall that the Indians no longer valued him. Had he not been traded he probably would have been non-tendered in the offseason or designated for assignment before the end of the season.

Other relievers have jumped up to the forefront in priority, pitchers like C.C. LeeAustin AdamsKyle Crockett andNick Hagadone. They also have several other pitchers they like that are in the mix to be an option at some point in the near future, relievers such as Bryan PriceTyler SturdevantEnosil Tejeda and Shawn Armstrong. With so much depth and his value to them all but extinguished, they flipped him for a potential asset later on down the road.

Clevinger, 23, is about as much of a wildcard as you can get. He has the prospect pedigree as a former top 10 prospect in the Angels system and once was considered by some as their best pitching prospect in the entire organization. But he is extremely raw and coming off of Tommy John surgery in 2012. As a result, his performance has been extremely inconsistent over the past two seasons and he needs a lot of work.

Considering that Pestano did not have much trade value to begin with, this is an interesting pickup for the Indians. Clevinger is a lottery ticket that likely won’t pan out, but the Indians like his potential for four average or better pitches. The Indians will work to clean up his delivery by simplifying it and with less effort, but there is some upside to him with his size, 91-93 MPH fastball that flashes 96 MPH and a deep mix of secondary pitches.

Clevinger is the second former Angels starting pitching prospect the Indians have picked up as they recently traded for Nick Maronde. They are scouring the league for all possibilities to add starting pitching prospects to their system – easily the greatest need they have as an organization.

Kipnis’ struggles continue

Second baseman Jason Kipnis continues to struggle with the bat as he is hitting just .251 with 6 HR, 36 RBI and .689 OPS in 91 games this season. His struggles this season are a big reason why the Indians have been so up and down as a team, though you do have to wonder if his oblique injury suffered several weeks back is still bothering him.

Kipnis, 27, signed a big six-year $52.5 million contract extension before the season, but has come nowhere close this season to the player the Indians thought they were signing to such a deal. Often viewed as an offensive-oriented second baseman he has not even been that this season as he is 12th among qualified second basemen in WAR (0.8) and wRC+ (98). He has merely been a tick below average to date, which is a far cry from the above average player he was last season.

When you combine his limitations defensively, you have to wonder if there will ever come a time where the Indians consider moving Kipnis back to the outfield. He is one of the worst defensive second basemen in the game, something which had been covered up the previous three seasons by his above average offensive play overall. But this season he has not been hitting and he is showing he just does not have the range or defensive prowess at the position as many others in the league.

I don’t think the Indians are in a position to move Kipnis off of second base, especially since he is one of their franchise players because of how hard he plays, the way he leads and of course the big contract he just signed. But if the problems with his offense carry over into the first half of next season they may need to rethink some things. Plus, with his skill set, his bat best profiles at second base as he has the best chance to be an impact player there where even with his All Star numbers last season he would be about an average outfielder.

You also wonder just who Kipnis is as an offensive player. This season has been rough for him, but it is not all that different from his poor 2012 campaign when he hit .257 with 14 HR, 76 RBI and .714 OPS. His walk rate (10.0% in 2012, 10.0% in 2014), strikeout rate (16.2%, 18.4%), isolated power (.122, .109) and on-base percentage (.335, .328) are all pretty much in line with one another. Which begs the question, is what we have seen out of Kipnis in 2012 and this season who he really is and 2013 is the outlier?

I don’t think so….but his performance to date is really making me begin to rethink that stance.

Parting shots

Corey Kluber is having a season for the ages. After another 10-strikeout performance on Saturday with no more than one walk, it was the sixth time he has done that this season and he became just the 19th pitcher in baseball history to accomplish that feat. He is the only Indians pitcher to ever do it more than four times in one season. … Michael Bourn continues his rehab with Triple-A Columbus today. In three games with Double-A Akron he went 0-for-10 with five strikeouts. The Indians maintain that they just want him to prove he is healthy and at the same time see pitches and get comfortable on the field and at the plate. … The Indians have released right-handed relieverFrank Herrmann. He was 1-1 with a 6.37 ERA in 28 appearances and the Indians simply moved on so that they can give other relievers a look at Triple-A.

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

August 12, 2014 - 11:32 AM EDT
Not sure that Carrasco was doing too much differently. The Yankees offense is, uh, Royals-esque? His biggest issue is still fastball command. Seemed back in '11 he had decent command, so maybe that will eventually return, but I'd say the Yankees start was mirage, saw a lot of fastballs sneak by down the middle that were fouled off. Though he's just plain better than Tomlin and McAllister. Tomlin has poor fastball command too, but Carrasco at least should be able to get away with it more.

Doubtful the Mets would want prospects for Niese. They are stacked with prospects. They certainly would want a heck of a lot more than prospects of the Naquin/Gonzalez variety.
August 12, 2014 - 10:52 AM EDT
Homer & Tondo--

I don't totally disagree on Niese, but I am quite wary of a guy with a steadily declining K-rate, especially moving from the NL to the AL. $17M guaranteed over 2 seasons with some options is not a bad price for a guy like that, but giving up 2 top 10 prospects in addition seems steep to me.

As you guys mentioned…there's a reason 29 clubs passed on the opportunity to exclusively negotiate for his rights.
August 12, 2014 - 8:40 AM EDT

That's exactly what I was thinking. I think adding Niese for Naquin, EGonzalez and whichever Colon, Roberts or DVS is a move worth making for this season and the next few seasons as well. He's affordable, an upgrade, LH, and could slot into the 3 spot right now. It would be a move for this yr and the next 2-4 depending on his performance.

Salazar / House
Carrasco / Tomlin / McAllister

That would feel a lot more stable to me. Plus adding (potentially) another LH to the rotation.
August 12, 2014 - 7:57 AM EDT
Homer, I'm with you on Niese. Go get him. I'm very surprised he was not claimed, so his value might be lower than we think. He's a solid 3/4 SP with a steady track record and a very good, controllable contract, and yes, he's a LHP too. His home/away splits are probably the reason he's not highly thought of and if most of the league and maybe the Mets themselves mistake him for another Milone, then it's the right time to strike a deal. He might even solidify the rotation this season for a longshot WC push.

What do the Mets want in return? Bats I suppose. How about Naquin + EGonz. Throw in a AAA reliever or AA SP like Roberts, Colon or DVS if need be. Antonetti really should be all over him. He's as good as any SP the Tribe can realistically trade for this offseason and probably cheaper now than most some months from now. Buy low on Niese, NOW
C L Who
August 12, 2014 - 2:38 AM EDT
Kip without power is expendable and easily replaceable. Time to trade him is offseason when another team can be convinced he will return to 2012 form. His contract is cheap, and will be an incentive to sign him for another team. I like Kip but he is a darn statue out there......just like ACab became.

Carrasco could be a very good starter if he approaches every start as if he were relieving and just pitches all Calloway told him.
August 11, 2014 - 11:41 PM EDT
"...but Kluber’s contact management issues likely limit him to a #4 starter with a #3 upside" Tony Blengino former GM of the Seattle Mariners
August 11, 2014 - 11:00 PM EDT
Red Alert!!! Royals now in 1st place!!! Verlander out after the 1st inning!!! Has the great tiger collapse ready to begin??? Red alert!!!

August 11, 2014 - 7:27 PM EDT
Per the Mets Jon Niese has cleared waivers. I think he'd be a solid add for this rotation this yr and the next few. He's 27, a solid LHSP, and controllable for a reasonable rate the next two yrs with two option yrs and low buyouts. Plus he's from Ohio.

I'm not sure what it would take to land Niese, but why not go for it. He'd be a solid add, and help fortify the SP for at least two plus yrs, potentially four yrs.
August 11, 2014 - 6:18 PM EDT
Ryan, You are on the issue. If Kipnis is a .250 hitter - does he have a long term role on this team? A serious talent evaluation is needed. Another year like this one and his team/trade value will be minimal.

August 11, 2014 - 6:17 PM EDT
I was surprised to see how big Walters is when I tuned into Sunday's game, particularly because he was described as a SS/utility infielder at the time of the Cabrera trade. He actually reminded me a lot of Grady Sizemore, and while I don't expect him to be nearly as athletic as Grady, I can certainly see real power potential. If Tito's crew can teach him some plate discipline and pitch recognition in Cleveland and/or Columbus, watch out.
August 11, 2014 - 5:51 PM EDT
How did Walters look on the fly outs to CF? I saw the K he had, he swung at a high change-up that stayed outside corner. At least it was a strike, but he was obviously swinging for the fences, I can see why he has a high K rate, wonder if we have another Santana type hitter, won't cut his swing down, but has a good eye at the plate and good power.
What was the scouting reports on Kipnis' defensive abilities in the OF going into the draft? I think that the oblique could be affecting his play at 2B, but in general he isn't the most flexible looking guy, even at the plate, everything is stiff and controlled. When he goes for groundballs it is the same, he doesn't seem to get low to the ground when he is moving, thus tons of clanks off his glove and balls going right under his glove even if he is reached far enough to be at the spot. Trouble is, if he is only a .750-.775 OPS type of offensive player, where do you put him in the OF? Does he have the arm to play RF? And what about all the OFers we now have in the high minors?
August 11, 2014 - 5:17 PM EDT
"Lord knows the Indians could use a boost in the rotation. Corey Kluber is pitching at a CY Young level right now, but the rest of the four spots in the rotation have been inconsistent all year. Sure, there is massive upside from the likes of Trevor Bauer and Danny Salazar, and while both have made their fair share of good outings this season, their youth and inexperience has shown with their inconsistency. So if what Carrasco showed on Sunday is real, then bully for the Indians."

If we are going to have any success we need the talent to perform. A starting rotation of Kiuber, Bauer, Salazar and Carrasco has talent. I also believe MacAllister has the talent. To me that is the dance we need to dance. I believe we should go with that group and simply see what happens. If they fail, we fail. I see no other alternative for this year. For next year we need to add a pitcher to have competition for at least the 5th spot.
#Team Eastside
August 11, 2014 - 4:18 PM EDT
People may laugh, but I think Zach Walters is going to rock the house. He might as well be the second coming of Christ as far as I'm concerned. BOMBS AWAY.
Jeff P.
August 11, 2014 - 4:12 PM EDT
Interested tose Walters. With September 1 just around the corner, he should be up the rest of the season
August 11, 2014 - 3:59 PM EDT
Obliques can linger. It was an oblique that doomed Cliff Lee's 2007 season. Baseball is pretty tough on the core muscles.

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