Surging Carrasco takes on Yanks again
Indians pitcher 'turned the corner' since last Yankees matchup
It's been almost a month since he last faced the Yankees, but Indians starter Carlos Carrasco can recount the game's details like it was played yesterday.
It was his first time to pitch at Yankee Stadium, so he was understandably a bit nervous. He was more anxious than scared, but there was no denying the butterflies in his stomach.
This was going to be his time to shine, he said. He wanted it. The Indians, coming off a four-game losing streak and in danger of losing the top spot in the American League Central, needed it. After Carrasco's Tribe went down in order in the top of the first inning, the pitcher took a breath and jogged out to mound.
Derek Jeter welcomed him with a single on his second pitch. Next, Carrasco went up 0-2 on Curtis Granderson, but the Yankees center fielder drove a changeup up the middle for another single. Mark Teixeira walked on five pitches to load the bases with no outs, with Alex Rodriguez up next.
Carrasco, 24, knew he would be challenged by the Yankees, but he didn't know the test would come this early in the game. He wouldn't realize until later that this inning would help define his season. Carrasco had a choice that day, and he chose to trust his ability. He chose to believe in himself.
Carrasco retired Rodriguez, Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher in order without allowing a run. He would go on to pitch six more shutout innings in the 1-0 Cleveland victory. He still talks about June 13 with pride -- and not just because he beat the Yankees. It's the day he gave the baseball world a glimpse into his psyche.
The young Venezuelan starter has coupled subtle changes to his delivery with big changes in his attitude -- and together, they have made all the difference in the world. The new-and-improved Carrasco will take on the Yankees again Tuesday at Progressive Field. CC Sabathia will take the hill for New York.
"The whole world tells me that I'm throwing with confidence, and they are right. They can see it, too." Carrasco said. "I'm feeling good right now. I've built this confidence. Think about what happened to me in 2009 and 2010 and now. I learned from that."
The right-hander has come a long way. Carrasco was acquired by the Indians with Jason Donald, catcher Lou Marson and right-hander Jason Knapp from Philadelphia in the trade for Cliff Lee and Ben Francisco at the Trade Deadline in 2009, and Carrasco admitted to putting too much pressure on himself when he arrived in the Cleveland organization. He went 0-4 with an 8.87 ERA in five starts for the Indians in 2009, and 2-2 with a 3.83 ERA in seven starts after his big league promotion last September.
This season, he's pitching like an ace. The right-hander is 4-1 with a 0.98 ERA in his last five starts and has not walked a batter in his last two outings. Overall, he's 8-4 with a 3.54 ERA this season. The Indians are 9-6 when he takes the mound.
"He's becoming what we hoped he would become -- a power pitcher," Cleveland pitching coach Tim Belcher said. "He's relying on his fastball more efficiently. Not that he's throwing an extraordinarily high number of fastballs, but he is challenging the strike zone with fastballs."
Carrasco credits his work with Belcher during bullpen sessions and a slight tweak in his mechanics for his recent success. The right-hander says he now rotates his torso just a tad during his windup, and it has allowed him increased control on all of his pitches.
"Right now, I'm throwing 90 to 93 mph with location, and it feels different, much better than throwing 95 to 96 mph," he said. "I'm back in the strike zone, and I have so much more control. I feel like I can throw my fastball, slider or curve in any count. I'm really confident."
Confidence is a big part of Carrasco's game, and he knows it. There were times last season when he would receive text messages from family and friends reminding him to stand up straight and walk tall around the mound. His close friends told him he looked timid and sometimes even scared.
Everyone wanted to know why Carrasco seemed so nervous on the mound.
Last year's texts have been replaced with congratulatory phone calls this year.
"He still is young and people forget that," Belcher said. "We want them to become men out there when they are not men yet. Fifteen or 20 years ago, you fight the battles and you get prepared in the Minors. But now, you get two or three years in the Minors and you're put in the big leagues. Guys like Carlos are still learning their craft and getting scarred at the Major League level, and those scars are deep. He has turned the corner."
Indians manager Manny Acta has been one of Carrasco's biggest supporters during the last two years, and he has high expectations for his young pitcher. The first-place Indians still lead the Tigers by 1 1/2 games in the AL Central standings, and the Tribe will need a strong full season from a group of pitchers that includes Carrasco if the club want to make it to the postseason.
"We look for a guy like him to give us that lift every five days, and keep us in the game and minimize the opponent's offense, because we know that without [Shin-Soo] Choo and with some of the other injuries that we are not a run-producing team. From Day 1, it's always been about a team effort. It continues to be that way. We rely a lot on our pitching."
And no, Acta said, he is not surprised to see Carrasco's perform so well on the mound lately. He's almost never surprised by his club.
"We always felt that we would be in this position," Acta said. "Everyone is free to think what they want and we respect their opinion, but we believe that we can be here. In order for us to keep doing what we are doing, we need everyone healthy and everyone to play up to their capabilities. We have some guys out, but you have to move forward. We need guys to pick up the slack."
The Indians need guys like Carlos Carrasco.