Ball Played: Carrasco’s night, my kind of team

Carlos Carrasco Cleveland Indians
Brian Blanco / Getty Images

Carlos Carrasco has had one hell of a calendar year. He has had to rescessitate his career as a starter and navigate health issues while maintaining a level of excellence on the field that led to his long-term financial security. The culmination of those efforts came on Wednesday as Carlos Carrasco pitched one out away from no-hitting the Tampa Bay Rays as the Cleveland Indians took their third straight dominating win by a score of 8-1.

On July 1, 2014, Carlos Carrasco was still attempting to rebuild trust in both himself and Tribe pitching coach Mickey Callaway. He had moved to the bullpen after a disastrous beginning to the 2014 season as a starter. Carrasco would go on to close the season with a dominant 10-game stretch of starts that solidified himself as part of the rotation moving forward. Then, in the offseason, unbeknownst to Indians fans, Carrasco was suffering from heart palpitations near the end of the dominating 2014 season. In October, he underwent heart surgery that was meant to increase blood flow through one of his ventricles by running a tube from his leg along with being prescribed some medication for it. In Spring Training, those palpitations reoccurred and the Indians protected his privacy by pitching him in simulated games away from the public for all but nine innings.

In the end, the medication was adjusted, the palpitations ceased, and the Indians were undeterred from offering him a long-term contract. Carrasco was determined to lock down his family’s long-term financial security despite the MLBPA not being happy with him taking what they considered a below market deal. But, Carrasco chose to take the $22 million guaranteed that can become $50 million through the year 2020 rather than having the continual stress of his next contract bearing down on him.

After his strong finish in 2014, Carlos Carrasco entered this season as a popular breakout candidate. He did not disappoint early in the year as his first time out he absolutely dominated the Houston Astros. However, in just his second start of the season against the Chicago White Sox, disaster nearly struck. While Carrasco attempted to field a line drive off the bat of Melky Cabrera, the ball deflected off of his glove and smacked directly into his jaw.

As he crumpled to the ground and laid motionless for several moments, the game of baseball ceased to matter as all hoped that he would be able to recover from whatever injury he had just sustained. When it was later revealed that he somehow managed to avoid any bone damage, there was relief. When Carrasco demanded that he only miss a couple of extra days1 so that he might face those same White Sox, there was disbelief. It was nothing short of miraculous, and the Indians helped him secure a 2-1 win in the rematch (Carrasco pitched five innings and gave up one run).

Since the injury, his season has been much like that of the rest of the team. He has pitched much better than his ERA demonstrates, and he has been hurt by a mixture of bad defense and bad timing (3.88 ERA with a 2.76 FIP). However, unlike his defending Cy Young Award counterpart Corey Kluber, the Indians have managed to win most of Carrasco’s starts. Carrasco is now 10-6 on the season, and the bullpen has ensured that every single game he has started has resulted in a decision.

Keys of the Game

Carrasco’s Night:
The funny thing is that Joey Butler nearly ruined the no-hit bid before it had a real chance to gain any momentum. In the first inning, it took a herculean effort from Carlos Santana to dive to his right and throw the ball back to Carrasco from his knees just to get out of the initial frame unscathed.

The only other real chance at a hit before the ninth inning came when Curt Casali hit a pop fly ball to center field in the bottom of the third inning. Michael Bourn danced under it enough to give one pause, but he ultimately found the ball and made the catch (and one would hope it would have been scored an error if he had not).

Joey Butler then ruined the chance at a perfect game in the bottom of the seventh inning after he fouled off two good pitches on a two-strike count before drawing a walk. And, it was Carlos Santana again preserving the opportunity to face the minimum 27 batters by making a nice stop on an Evan Longoria ground ball to start a double play to end the inning. In fact, due to properly starting the double play by stepping on first and getting Joey Butler in a run down situation, Santana was able to record both putouts on the double play himself (just your friendly neighborhood 3-6-3 double play).

Carlos Carrasco was extremely thankful for his teammates in his postgame comments, but he was the one who was personally responsible for half of the outs on his own. 13 of the 26 outs were strikeouts. The seventh inning was the only one of the game in which Carrasco did not strike out a Ray batter. He had command of his fastball and he was getting the batters to chase pitches out of the strike zone.

The ninth inning demonstrated that either the elevated pitch count (124 pitches on the night) or the pressure of the moment took away some of Carrasco’s control as he walked Asdrubal Cabrera before hitting Brandon Guyer with a pitch. Mike Aviles saved the no-hitter for a moment with a nice play to get the fielder’s choice at second base before Carlos Carrasco mowed down his last Ray batter of the night with a strikeout.

The next batter was Joey Butler, because of course it was Joey Butler. After being the only thorn in Carrasco’s side all night, Butler looped a spinning hit just a few inches over the fully extended Jason Kipnis, who did everything he could to will the ball down into his glove. The no-hit bid would end, the shutout would be over as Asdrubal Cabrera scored, and Carrasco’s night would come to a somewhat disheartening close.

But, none of that takes away from a truly special night. In fact, ESPN’s David Schoenfield notes that he had one of the greatest modern day games in terms of getting batters to miss his pitches:

“Everything was great,” Carrasco said after the game. “I had my teammates, my defense. You know what? It’s most important that we won today. That’s most important.”

And, you could see that appreciation after Butler’s hit dropped in. Carrasco was all smiles and he motioned to Kipnis for the effort on the play. The teammates all huddled on the mound thank Carrasco for his performance and he seemed to just be happy that he could provide it for them. As he walked off the field, the visiting fans all stood and cheered loudly for Carrasco who smiled and removed his cap to wave before ducking into the dugout.

Austin Adams came on to obtain the final out, and all that was left was the Gatorade shower.

Somewhat lost in the shadow of the dominating pitching performances2 is that the offense has awoken from its season-long slumber. The Indians have been the best hitting team in MLB with the bases empty, but due to being one of the worst teams with runners on base, the overall runs produced have not reflected a good offense. The fans (and team) have waited for things to change. At least for this series, they have.

The Indians did not just break out in just one game to make the overall score look more dominating than it actually was. No, the Indians have won the past three games by counts of 7-1, 6-2, and 8-1. Rays manager Kevin Cash has even acknowledged that it could have been worse as the Indians left many potential runs on the bases in the early going of the first game.

In fact, the Indians were only 3-for-12 in Wednesday’s game with RISP. However, two of those hits were by Brandon Moss, who finished with five RBI after a home run and a bases-clearing double.

Key Scorecard:
Tampa Bay Rays: 1 (for Joey Butler and also to signify that one hit they got)
Cleveland Indians: 21 (13 strikeouts + 8 runs)

Old Friends; Help or Haunt

Asdrubal Cabrera: He walked in the ninth and was the reason Carrasco did not get a shutout. HAUNT

Grady Sizemore: It almost would have been fitting if his pinch-hit appearance in the ninth would have been what ended the no-hit bid. He made good contact, but Mike Aviles was able to get the out at second base. HELP

The Nine

Jason Kipnis: 2-for-5 and the tone-setter in the field and at the plate.

Mike Aviles: Another balanced effort to give Francisco Lindor a much-deserved night off. Aviles was one of eight batters to have a hit on the night for the Indians.

Michael Brantley: Nothing out of the ordinary on the night for Brantley though he did have the only hit with RISP outside of Brandon Moss.

David Murphy / Ryan Raburn: The duo continue to be a weapon for Terry Francona.

Carlos Santana: Hat-tip for Santana’s big night. Not only was he making plays in the field, but he aggressively scored from first base on the Brandon Moss double in the second inning.

Brandon Moss: Huge night for Moss. He has been this year’s version of Mark Reynolds where he is all or nothing on any given night, but when he is “all,” he has been fantastic.

Giovanny Urshela: The rookie continues to act like he’s a 10-year veteran.

Michael Bourn: Despite the adventures in the field on the Casali fly ball, he had a decent night as he looked much more comfortable at the plate despite only finishing 1-for-4.

Roberto Perez: We’ll just assume that the only Indian batter to not reach base was more focused on calling the game.

  1. In order for the swelling on his face go down. Seriously, the man is a warrior. Hey coach, I know my cheek has an apple growing out of it now, but I don’t want to miss more than a couple extra days, okay? []
  2. 20 of 27 innings pitched by the Indians this series have been 1-2-3 innings. []