Carrasco on spring debut: 'I feel happy'

March 3rd, 2020

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- was visibly emotional when he first returned to the mound in a September relief appearance last year after a leukemia diagnosis caused him to miss the previous three months. He fully expects his first start in front of a home crowd to be even more magical.

The 32-year-old got a quick taste of what it’ll feel like to officially be back in a starting role again when he made his spring debut in Tuesday’s 11-7 loss to the Angels at Goodyear Ballpark, allowing two runs on three hits in two innings.

Carrasco’s first outing got pushed back after he sustained a mild right hip flexor strain on Feb. 19, but he said he finally started to feel pain-free at the end of last week. Even though there are only three weeks remaining in Spring Training, he was confident that he still has enough time left to be ready by Opening Day.

“That part was emotional for me because the last time that I started a game was in May,” Carrasco said. “So just getting to this point, I feel happy. I think everything came out really good, even my mechanics.”

When March 26 comes, Carrasco will be ready to put everything about last year’s journey in the rearview mirror. He doesn’t want to have to reflect on his illness every time he does or tries something new. But he surely won’t forget just how grateful he is to be back on the mound. Just to serve as a little reminder, he had a special moment from last season etched into his glove so that he can carry it with him moving forward.

It was September 22 and the Indians were playing their final home game against the Phillies. Adam Plutko went 4 1/3 frames and manager Terry Francona called on Carrasco to escape a jam. With none out, a runner on third and the game tied at 1, Carrasco forced César Hernández to pop out before getting J.T. Realmuto to ground into a double play to end the inning.

“I was trying to get a ground ball and that’s what I did,” Carrasco said. “And it was one of the moments that I feel, ‘This is going on my glove.’”

As he stared down at the center of his glove just beyond the right-field fence after Tuesday’s start, he allowed himself to think back on the past 10 months another time.

It was May when he and his teammates started to realize his velocity would dip as he’d get deeper into his outings, and no one knew why. On June 4, he then broke the news to everyone in the clubhouse that he had been diagnosed with leukemia and would need to step away from the game for the unforeseeable future.

Over the next three months, the illness would cause him to feel extremely sick. He lost 18 pounds and he worried whether he could get back on the mound again before the season ended. To keep his mind from racing, he spent time with children in hospitals and giving back to his community.

“I wanted to do something different,” Carrasco said. “I didn’t want to be home just thinking about it. We are human beings and when something really bad happens, we think about it a lot. A lot. I don’t want to be one of those guys who goes home and feels sick. I’m just gonna go out there, do my same thing I’ve been doing. I actually went to the stadium to do all my workouts and everything, trying to think about doing something different. ... When I go back home, I have my family there, so I don’t have time to think about it. That helped.”

But now, baseball no longer has to be a distraction; it can simply be his job.

In just a few short weeks, Carrasco will come out of the Indians' dugout to take the mound at Progressive Field with “Summer of ‘69” booming over the loudspeakers and a roaring ovation from the home crowd. It’ll be then that Carrasco can take one last moment to reflect on his roller coaster of a year before beginning a new chapter with a clean bill of health in 2020.

“It’s going to be unbelievable that day,” Carrasco said. “I did it last year, but it was out of the bullpen. But now that I’ve been pitching in the rotation, it’s going to be completely different, and I can’t wait for that moment.”