Carrasco back in Cleveland uniform: 'It feels like home'

February 24th, 2024

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The scene was all too familiar.

The Guardians lined up on the first-base line at Goodyear Ballpark to be introduced to a new season on Saturday. José Ramírez got the loudest cheer from the fans as the positional players were announced individually. But at the end, when the starting pitcher's name boomed through the speakers, an even louder roar emerged.

The man who has captivated fans' hearts for 11 years, from 2009 until 2020, took a slow stroll out to the field. He said hello to the umpires, hugged one of them and walked toward the mound with a smile on his face. For three years, this presence was missing in Cleveland. But now, is back.

"It feels good," Carrasco said. "It feels like home."

You can't make it more than 30 seconds into a conversation with Carrasco without feeling his love for the Guardians and the city. It's a passion so genuine that even an almost 37-year-old veteran could feel overwhelmingly nervous before pitching one inning in an inconsequential Cactus League exhibition game.

"As soon as I got to the mound, I had a lot of feelings," Carrasco said. "I pitched here for 11 years. Getting back there, I was so nervous I couldn't feel the ball. I've been playing baseball for a long time, but I was so, so, so nervous going out to the mound."

The nerves showed. Carrasco walked the first batter he faced before giving up a single to the next. But it's only human for a person who's been through what Carrasco has gone through in his time with this team. Cleveland was the club that traded for him to give him a chance in the big leagues. This was the organization that stood beside him while he battled leukemia. This is a community that he fell so in love with when he was a no-doubt Roberto Clemente Award winner. This is a city he's watched his kids grow up in. He's said it countless times since returning: This is home.

"Listen, I cannot have that every start," Carrasco said of the emotions. "I will do that today. I already pitched. So, I'm just going to calm down a little bit. But everything's fine. I'm glad I went over there and worked on what I've been working on in bullpens and all that kind of stuff. But everything feels great."

Those feelings were overwhelming at first, but then he zoned in. He forced a popout in foul territory before Andrés Giménez made a nice play at second base to turn an inning-ending double play, handing Carrasco a clean first inning back in the Guardians' blue and red jersey.

“It was so fun to see him take the mound in a Cleveland uniform again,” manager Stephen Vogt said. “From the time I met Cookie and talking with him, he’s just so happy to be back here. First game to have him take the ball right out of the gate, it just looked right and felt right.”

Carrasco was away from Cleveland for three seasons, joining Francisco Lindor in the trade to the Mets, which resulted in the Guardians securing their platinum-glove second baseman. In that time, he dealt with finger, elbow, oblique and hamstring issues that limited his time on the mound. Last year, he made 20 starts and owned a 6.80 ERA with 66 strikeouts and 38 walks in 90 frames. He's looking to get his velocity back up and get back to the hurler he was with Cleveland. But he never considered walking away from the game as he searched for a job this offseason.

"I will be 37, but listen, I've been playing with a lot of people like Max Scherzer, [Justin] Verlander, they all are working hard," Carrasco said. "Those guys are still throwing hard. I just follow the steps right there."

Carrasco is on a Minor League deal. He's not guaranteed a spot on this Opening Day roster. Frankly, it will be a tough battle for him to land one. But that's not deterring him. It's certainly not dampening his mood. He seems hungrier than ever to prove he can be an effective Major League pitcher, even at 37.

"I always say that I will play until 40," Carrasco said. "I don't know where, but my body is still there, my arm is still there, so I will play until my body says I'm done throwing. I said right now, no."