CLEVELAND -- In his last start, Carlos Carrasco said he was struggling to find himself on the mound after back-to-back outings that ended after 4 1/3 innings. He was hoping to figure out the problem -- whatever it may be -- in between starts. In the bullpen before Sunday’s contest, he thought he made it over the hump. But everything unraveled once the game got underway.
For the first time this season, Carrasco couldn’t make it through four innings, permitting four runs on seven hits (including two homers) in 3 1/3 frames in the Indians’ 7-4 loss in the series finale against the Tigers at Progressive Field.
“Cookie, talking to [catcher Beau] Taylor, his bullpen session was unbelievable,” Indians temporary manager Sandy Alomar Jr. said. “But the transitioning to the game, I felt like his pitch distribution was not correct. At times he needed to elevate, and he didn’t. He kept everything down, he didn’t have his breaking ball. He didn’t change eye levels. That’s what I feel.
“He didn’t have his command, his breaking ball. Living down, down, down -- hitters tend to adapt in that area, and they were making good contact. He just needed to trust his fastball more, his four-seamer.”
While Carrasco mentioned he could have to make some slight tweaks to his delivery last week, his biggest problem on the rubber has been his heater. Entering Sunday’s start, just 26 percent of takes on his fastball (combining the four-seamer and sinker) were called strikes, which was the third lowest among 73 pitchers with at least 100 takes on a fastball this season.
That trend continued in his sixth start of the year, as his four-seamer and sinker were thrown a combined 36 times, prompting 16 swings (and just two whiffs). Of the 20 takes on the fastballs, only five were called strikes -- a ratio of 25 percent.
“He needs to trust the four-seam fastball,” Alomar said. “Hitters tend to focus in one area, the area that’s your hotspot. Once you focus on the area, you tend to put a good barrel on the ball, even on pitches that are out of the zone -- you can do that if you focus in one area. That’s why it’s good always to change the eye level and change direction in a quadrant. You have to make sure you pitch up and down, in and out, and he was just throwing the ball down there.”
One of Carrasco’s goals heading into the weekend was to cut down the number of free passes he has handed out. The righty had walked 12 batters in his previous 14 2/3 innings before giving up one walk on Sunday. But that didn’t mean Carrasco had his arsenal under control.
Along with the fastball, Carrasco lost the feel for his breaking pitches the second time through the Tigers’ lineup. The top of the fourth inning began with a homer by Niko Goodrum on a low-and-away, first-pitch changeup, followed by a double on a heater before Jorge Bonifacio launched a two-run blast on a first-pitch hanging slider over the middle of the plate.
“I don't know,” Carrasco said. “I'm losing my slider. I couldn't throw my slider for a strike. Fastball everywhere. I don't know what happened there the second time through the lineup.”
And as he struggled to find himself on the rubber, his offense couldn’t bail him out. The Indians’ bats started and ended with a bang, as César Hernández launched his first homer of the year on a leadoff blast in the first and Greg Allen tried to spark a rally with a three-run homer in the ninth, but the team was held to just four other hits. Now, Carrasco is once again left to figure out what happened before his next trip to the mound.
“All my pitches were there [in the first inning],” Carrasco said. “As the game went on, I lost my command on my fastball, it was everywhere. I tried to get it back to where it was before; in the first inning, it was great. They got one run in the first inning, but I felt more aggressive in the first inning than the last three. It was completely different.”