Back with Cleveland, Carrasco fights for roster spot

February 18th, 2024

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Conversations between Carlos Carrasco and the Guardians began in December. Once they started, there was no chance they would end.

A reunion made sense for both parties. The Guardians want more starting pitchers who can provide depth behind their five-man rotation just in case an injury occurs. It’s even better if those arms have already worked as relievers, should Cleveland use them out of the ‘pen in the meantime. Carrasco can fulfill both roles, has tremendous experience to bring to a young roster and, most importantly, he loves Cleveland.

“It was really simple,” Carrasco said of the decision. “I just want to come back here. I spent 11 years here. It was really smooth. I’m glad that I’m here.”

Cleveland traded for Carrasco in 2009 before he made his Major League debut. He spent his entire big league career with the organization until he and Francisco Lindor were shipped to the Mets prior to the 2021 season. Not only was joining a new organization at 34 years old an adjustment for himself, but the move was devastating for a fan base that spent the previous decade falling in love with him.

He was the guy who could be identified by a popular Bryan Adams song. He was the guy who constantly made an impact in the community. He was the guy who was lifted by fans during his time away from baseball in 2019 to treat the leukemia he was diagnosed with in May.

For fans, their ties to Carrasco run much deeper than baseball. The bond between Carrasco and the city showed when the Guardians announced he’d been signed to a Minor League deal with an invitation to Spring Training at the beginning of the month.

“[I’ve heard] from everyone,” Carrasco said. “The Clinic that I went to in Cleveland, restaurants, friends, everyone. … They’re pretty happy that I’m here.”

You only need about five seconds with Carrasco to realize that feeling is mutual.

Carrasco battled a handful of injuries in his three years with the Mets, and last year, he made 20 starts and owned a 6.80 ERA with 66 strikeouts and 38 walks in 90 frames. His metrics were down compared to his prime, but he knew there was more in the tank. He decided to join Shane Bieber at Driveline in Scottsdale, Ariz., after working with the data-driven organization through the 2023 season from afar. Following his in-person visit, he’s noticed some changes in his results.

“My slider is way better than it used to be. Two-seamer is really good,” Carrasco said. “I surprised myself [on Thursday] throwing in the bullpen 90, 91, 92 [mph]. … Last year I spent all year throwing my bullpen from 86 to 88 [mph].

“I feel like I could get 93, 94, 95 [mph], I don’t know. It feels good.”

With even more confidence in where his arsenal stands, Carrasco now turns his focus to winning a spot on the Opening Day roster. Assuming no injuries occur over the next six weeks, the Guardians’ rotation is set with Bieber, Triston McKenzie, Gavin Williams, Tanner Bibee and Logan Allen. Can Carrasco prove he should be carried in the bullpen as a long reliever? Will he eventually make his way onto the Major League roster when a starter is needed? These are the decisions the coaching staff will have to weigh.

“There’s some versatility there,” Guardians pitching coach Carl Willis said, “but first and foremost, we have to just make sure we stay healthy, keep him healthy, go out and do what he can do and make decisions as we go. Hopefully they’re tough decisions.”

The 22-year-old righty who debuted with Cleveland in 2009 is suddenly on the verge of turning 37 in March. At his age, it’s hard to predict how many more seasons his arm will be able to hold up before retirement becomes the most logical option. If he’s nearing the end, there’s no better place for him to be than Cleveland.

“I feel like, and I told him, this is home for him,” Willis said. “Him coming back at this stage of his career, I think we all feel that Cleveland is the best place for him to get everything out of himself he can get and be comfortable doing it. So, we’re excited about it.”