AKRON, Ohio -- Carlos Carrasco watched the bullpen door swing open in the top of the sixth inning.
The 32-year-old hurler took his first step onto the warning track, beginning his short jog to the pitcher’s mound. As he made his way onto the outfield grass, the 4,000-plus fans in attendance at Canal Park rose to their feet. For the first time in nearly three months, Carrasco was back on the rubber in front of a roaring crowd.
“It feels great because those people were behind me the whole way,” Carrasco said. “From Day One until now.”
After being placed on the injured list with leukemia on June 5, Carrasco made his first Minor League rehab appearance on Monday for Double-A Akron. On Saturday, Indians manager Terry Francona said that Carrasco had been sitting around 90-93 mph in the simulated game he pitched in last week. But the right-hander quickly proved he had more in the tank.
On the first pitch of the evening, Carrasco fired in a 97 mph heater just off the outside corner of the plate, surprising himself with the velocity.
“You know what, it feels great because the first time coming back from 2 1/2 months without baseball and just a couple bullpens, maybe three or four bullpens, and the first pitch is 97 [mph],” Carrasco said. “Right away, I looked back to the scoreboard because I just wanted to find out what was that pitch, and it was 97 and it feels great.”
The right-hander worked a scoreless frame, allowing one walk and recording one strikeout. He threw 16 pitches (nine for strikes) and worked in three changeups -- one of which resulted in the strikeout -- and one slider.
“I was surprised because all my pitches were way different than before,” Carrasco said. “Even my changeup, too.”
Francona said over the weekend that the plan will be to keep Carrasco on a reliever’s program because it will be more attainable for the righty, who had to step away from the game for over two months to battle leukemia.
“Like I think when he started thinking about building up as a starter, it kind of seemed a little daunting, a little far away,” Francona said. “This is something he can latch onto and be a part of our team and really help us, and it doesn’t seem so far away.”
Judging by Carrasco’s first rehab appearance, it most definitely doesn’t seem too far away. And it wasn’t like his 97 mph heater was an outlier. He followed his tone-setting first pitch with three consecutive 96 mph fastballs.
If someone would’ve told Carrasco before his outing that 11 of his 16 pitches would clock in at 94 mph or higher, a tick up from where his manager said he was topping out in his simulated game, what would he have said?
“I’m ready to go,” Carrasco said with a cheesing grin. “We’ll have to wait until tomorrow to see what is the next step.”