Cookie’s conundrum

Billy Butler, Lou MarsonThe race for the fifth spot in the Indians’ rotation is down to two arms: Scott Kazmir and Carlos Carrasco. In Carrasco’s case, there is a situation that requires clarification before he is potentially added to the roster.

Do you remember July 29, 2011?

It was a 12-0 loss to the Royals, so there’s a good chance you washed that game from your memory bank. The only reason you should recall that day is that’s when Cookie Carrasco threw a fastball at Billy Butler’s head.

It slipped!

The timing of that high-inside heated was curious, seeing as it came one pitch after Melky Cabrera took a moment to admire a fourth-inning grand slam. Carrasco then threw at Butler, was tossed from the game and had his wrist slapped with a six-game suspension from Major League Baseball.

Carrasco appealed and went on to blow out his elbow, requiring Tommy John surgery. The pitcher sat out all of 2012 with the injury, watched Cleveland lose 94 games and is only now back on a mound and in the mix for a job.

I’d consider this all time served, but that pesky suspension is still hanging over Carrasco’s head. Shoot, Cabrera is on his third team since the incident took place. But, barring a pardon from The Commish, Carrasco still needs to serve his suspension when he’s back in the big leagues.

Complicating matters is the fact that Cleveland has 13 games in 13 days to open the season. The Indians are already considering opening the year with 13 pitchers (eight relievers) to guard against any setbacks with the rotation. If Carrasco is one of the starters, well then Cleveland will need a spot starter out of the gates due to the suspension.

This is all in theory, anyways.

Indians GM Chris Antonetti is still sorting through the suspension situation.

“That’s something that we have to think about,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “There’s all kinds of things to think about and that’s one of them. … The one thing we have to figure out is how that suspension [works]. We need some clarity on that and Chris is working towards that, too. We’ll get it figured out.”

In his outing against the D-backs on Thursday, Carrasco was charged with four runs on eight hits with three strikeouts and no walks in five innings. I say “charged with” because there was some defensive issues (Brantley lost a ball in the sun) that contributed to Arizona’s three-run third inning.

Some notes and quotes from Thursday…

  • Cleveland optioned starters Trevor Bauer and Corey Kluber to Triple-A on Thursday, narrowing the rotation race down to Kazmir and Carrasco. Kazmir is in camp as a non-roster invitee, but his progress in terms of command and velocity have been promising, and having a lefty in the rotation would be nice. As of now, he’s still my favorite to land the fifth spot.
  • Bauer said he has spent this spring working to “overwrite 10 years of neuromuscular programming” with his delivery. Let me translate: he’s altered his mechanics and it’s going to take time to get used to the changes. He knew tackling mechanical issues could hurt his chances of making the Opening Day rotation, but Bauer said he is focusing on his long-term future. Cleveland is on board with the changes. And, honestly, he seemed a long shot for Opening Day from the start. He has 14 Triple-A starts under his belt and can stand to improve his pitch efficiency. Chances are Bauer will come to Cleveland at some point this summer.
  • Kluber had a so-so spring between his Cactus League and Minor League outings. Francona said the Indians want the right-hander to concentrate on fastball command, and having more variation between his slider and cutter. Kluber has shown promise in spurt, but the consistency isn’t quite there yet.
  • Brantley launched a three-run homer on Thursday, making him 5-for-6 with five RBIs and nine total bases in his past two games. Prior to those games, the Tribe’s left fielder went 2-for-16 after returning from a left forearm injury. He appears to be getting his timing back.
  • Mike Aviles (Puerto Rico) and Carlos Santana (Dominican Republic) were back with the Indians on Thursday, but both were given the day off. They’ll be back in the lineup for the Tribe for Friday’s night game against Arizona in Goodyear.
  • Aviles said the atmosphere created by the fans in the World Baseball Classic was the highlight for him: “I’ve never seen that. They were so into the game and just so proud to be cheering us on. It was definitely one of those deals where you went to the park and you were excited, because you knew they had your back no matter what. That was my favorite part.”
  • Another highlight? Getting two hits off Indians teammate, and Team USA reliever, Vinnie Pestano. Said Aviles: “That was a fun part, too. That was more for the bragging rights. He had been telling me I was 0-for-6 before that. Well, I’m two-for-my-last two against him and hopefully I don’t need to face him anymore, so I can hold on tot hat until the next time.”
  • Indians second baseman Jason Kipnis has missed the past two games due to soreness in his throwing elbow. Francona said it wasn’t serious, and Kipnis could play through it if this were the regular season.
  • Indians catcher and bench candidate Yan Gomes has remained sidelined with a right hamstring issue since Friday. Francona said Gomes might be able to return to the lineup some time this weekend.
  • The Indians sent lefty Scott Barnes to Triple-A on Thursday, and also informed righty Jerry Gil that he will be going to Triple-A, too. Righty Matt Capps appeared in Thursday’s game, but he was told a couple days ago that he will not be on the Opening Day roster. Capps is currently looking for another big league job before telling Cleveland if he will go to the Minors. Francona is fine with Capps taking that approach: “I think Matt has an obligation to look around. We completely respect that. For his sake, I hope he finds a job. But, selfishly, I hope he ends up staying with us.”
  • With those moves, the bullpen continues to come into focus. Right now, it looks like it’s Bryan Shaw, Nick Hagadone and David Huff (out of options) battling for one or two openings, depending on whether Cleveland begins the season with seven or eight relievers.
  • Predicting the Opening Day roster as of today: ROTATION — Masterson, Jimenez, Myers, McAllister, Kazmir; BULLPEN — Perez, Smith, Pestano, Allen, Albers, Hill, Hagadone, Huff; REGULARS — Swisher, Kipnis, Cabrera, Chisenhall, Brantley, Bourn, Stubbs, Reynolds, Santana; BENCH — Aviles, Marson, Giambi.
  • EXPLANATION: I’m predicting a 13-man pitching staff out of the gates as of this writing. I have Huff as an eighth reliever, because he is out of options, so Cleveland could maintain its depth for a couple weeks and delay running him through waivers. Huff also has experience as a starter and is ready for a long relief role, which could come in handy given the 13 games in 13 days to begin the year. With a three-man bench, I could see a scenario where the Tribe has a handshake agreement with a utility guy like Raburn (or Phelps), telling him he’d go to the Minors until the team reverts back to a customary 12-man pitching staff. In the meantime, you’ve got a fourth outfielder in Swisher, and a super utility player in Aviles to backup multiple infield spots (and possibly the corner outfield spots) until another bench player is called up from Triple-A to pitch in.

I’ll try to do these more detailed blogs more often as we approach the regular season.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

 

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