CLEVELAND -- When Carlos Carrasco was placed on the injured list in June with a blood condition, the 32-year-old wanted to make sure that the press release included that he planned to return to the field before the end of 2019, though he wasn’t even sure if that was possible.
A month later, it was revealed to the public that the illness he was battling was chronic myeloid leukemia. And for those who paid close attention to his journey of his velocity struggles just before the diagnosis, his weight loss during treatment and his two-and-a-half-month break from the game, it was hard to imagine that he’d be able to toe the rubber again before the regular season came to a close. But Carrasco pulled off the impossible, kept his word and returned to the mound on Sept. 1 in a relief role. Now, he’s being honored as the 2019 American League Comeback Player of the Year.
Major League Baseball announced Carrasco and Josh Donaldson as the recipients of the award on Thursday afternoon. Each club nominated one of its players, and the 30 club beat reporters from MLB.com voted for their top three selections from each league. Deservedly, Carrasco won by a landslide. He’s the second Indians player to receive the award, joining Cliff Lee (2008).
Since 2005, a player from each league who has re-emerged on the field during the season has been honored with the “comeback” title. To go from the heart-stopping news of learning he had cancer to tossing his first inning in relief three months later, Carrasco certainly fit the bill. After battling through extreme fatigue in the last few starts before he learned what was wrong with his body, the righty returned with full energy in his Minor League rehab assignment.
On Aug. 19, Carrasco entered a game setting for the first time since his final start of the year on May 30, running in from the Canal Park bullpen in Akron, Ohio. With a standing ovation from the crowd injecting even more adrenaline into his body, Carrasco fired a 97-mph fastball before tossing three consecutive 96-mph heaters. He made four relief appearances between Double- and Triple-A and re-joined his big league team in St. Petersburg on Sept. 1.
After his first two emotional appearances following his return from the injured list, Carrasco settled in to a bullpen role for 13 more innings. His final month of the season was highlighted by a four-out save against Philadelphia and a 2 2/3-inning, one-hit outing with three strikeouts against the Phillies two nights later.
But the verb “re-emerged” described far more than his performance on the baseball field. Carrasco has always been active in his community, but he said his diagnosis gave him a new charitable perspective. Throughout his treatment, the Indians' hurler found himself spending as much time in the pediatric cancer wing as he did his own. He tried to allow kids to take a break from their everyday fight to enjoy some quality time with a professional athlete who was battling an illness similar to theirs. This and the rest of his gracious efforts in Venezuela, Florida and Cleveland also earned him the 2019 Roberto Clemente Award.
Everyone responds to a cancer diagnosis differently, but the way Carrasco was able to handle the news, fight back and keep his promise of returning to the mound in the same season has been an inspiration across Major League Baseball. A definition of a Comeback Player of the Year.