Milestone start puts Carrasco in Guardians history books

April 25th, 2024

CLEVELAND -- This isn’t how wanted a special night in a Guardians uniform to go. But if nothing else, even after more than two decades in pro ball, Carrasco said he learned a valuable lesson: Don’t try to be too perfect.

Carrasco toed the rubber for the 200th time for Cleveland as a starter on Wednesday night. It was also his 100th start at Progressive Field. At 43 degrees by first pitch, the night was the coldest temperature for a game this late in the season in Northeast Ohio since 2018, which wasn’t a great set up for Carrasco’s momentous outing. As much as he wanted it to go in his favor, it didn’t, and he gave up five runs in five-plus innings in the Guardians’ 8-0 loss to the Red Sox.

“To righties, he was getting the changeup down and executing,” Guardians manager Stephen Vogt said. “But the changeup to lefties, whether they were sitting on it, whether it was just sitting up for them, but I think a majority of their damage came on the changeup from lefties.”

Carrasco agreed. He had been leaning on his changeup and fastball through his first few starts, but turned mostly to his slider and change against the Red Sox on Wednesday. That decision made sense, considering that entering the night, opponents owned a combined .375 average (9-for-24) with three doubles and three triples against his four-seamer and sinker this year. And the Red Sox, on the other hand, had a .456 slugging percentage against fastballs this season, which led the American League (and ranked third in the Majors).

But when he went to his other pitches, especially his changeup, he wasn’t getting the job done. He gave up three homers -- two to right-hander Connor Wong -- on a slider, changeup and four-seamer, and three of the four singles he allowed were on changeups to lefties.

“With righties, I just finished my changeup,” Carrasco said. “For lefties, I was just trying to be too cute and not trying to be too perfect. … I need to get it back to the same way that I did with the right-handers.”

Bringing Carrasco back to his beloved organization was more than just a feel-good story. He signed to a Minor League deal over the winter to provide some reassurance for the Guardians, who suddenly were lacking starting pitching depth. At the time, they had no idea how quickly it would become even thinner once the season started.

Shane Bieber is out for the year due to UCL surgery. Joey Cantillo, the team’s next up-and-coming starting prospect, is down with a hamstring strain and won’t get his turn to take the big stage for a little while. Gavin Williams (right elbow discomfort) had a setback on Wednesday and will be down for at least another week before a rehab assignment can begin. Suddenly, Carrasco’s arm is critical for the Guardians’ rotation to keep its collective head above water. The results just need to follow.

He had been able to limit damage to three runs or fewer in each of his first four starts. The problem was, in two of those, he failed to complete five innings. The Guardians need length as more and more pressure gets put on the bullpen without regular starters taking the ball every five days. But Carrasco showed last week he could do just that, allowing two runs in 5 2/3 innings against Boston.

“Obviously tonight didn't go great,” Vogt said, “but he's been doing well for us to this point.”

The Guardians believe he can find his rhythm. His track record gives them all the confidence they need. He became the 15th hurler in franchise history to make 200 starts with Cleveland (first since Corey Kluber in 2019). He ranks fourth in Progressive Field history (since 1994) in starts behind Kluber (104), Charles Nagy (109) and CC Sabathia (125).

“Just speaks to his longevity, his ability to continue to pitch and get outs and the resilience,” Vogt said. “Cookie means a lot to us, not just what he does on the mound, but in the clubhouse and the dugout during the games. He's a big part of who we are.”

Carrasco believes he can find his rhythm, too.

“I don't need to be too perfect to throw those pitches,” Carrasco said. “I just need to be myself. Just let it go and let it rip. That's what I need to work on for my next start.”