Covering the Bases: Game 132
FIRST: The Indians hoped that Carlos Carrasco would carry the mentality of a late-inning reliever into his role as a starter in April. It took a rough opening act, and then a three-month stint back in the bullpen, for the big righty to figure out what that meant.
When Carrasco was sitting at 98-99 mph in the first inning on Thursday night, it was easy to see that he’s understanding and embracing what manager Terry Francona sums up nicely as “attack mode.”
“It’s something I learned in the bullpen: attack,” Carrasco said. “That’s what pitching’s about.”
It’s easy to say, and now Carrasco is making it look easy to do.
In one of the more incredible developments of this season — a story that once again has put the work of pitching coach Mickey Callaway and bullpen coach Kevin Cash on display — Carrasco has emerged as a formidable starting weapon for the Tribe. Four starts a season does not make, but it counts as a trend, and it’s the kind of trend Cleveland desperately needed in this season filled with starting pitching turmoil.
Against the White Sox, who dropped two of three to the Tribe this week, Carrasco spun 6.2 strong innings with his lone “mistake” an RBI single to slugger Jose Abreu (We’ll get to the quotation marks in the next item). Carrasco struck out seven, scattered four hits, walked one and ended with 71-percent strikes (73-of-103). It was the kind of line that has been the norm of late for the starter-turned-reliever-turned-starter-turned-reliever-turned-starter.
“He continues to do it,” Francona said. “He came out, he established his fastball, he held it. Especially when he kind of saw the end coming, he reached back for a little more. He had a good touch on his breaking ball and his changeup.”
The move to from the bullpen to the rotation was helped along by both a handful of off-days — allowing Francona to have a rested bullpen on high alert — and a steady showing by Carrasco. Over his last six games (the last four being starts), Carrasco’s pitch count has climbed in this manner: 21-59-77-79-90-103. Carrasco’s efficiency along the way has made this whole thing work.
“He’s in great shape. He’s a strong kid,” Francona said. “Fortunately, the way he’s pitched, he’s almost gone in increments, like 60, 70, 80, 90, 100. It’s worked out really well, where he hasn’t had a big increase in each game. And part of that is because he’s pitching so well. It’s been really good.”
Over his past four starts, Carrasco has gone 3-0 with a 0.73 ERA, 0.57 WHIP and a .131 (11-for-84) opponents’ average. In 24.2 innings in that span, the righty has 24 strikeouts, three walks and a 69-percent strike rate. Over his past 30 games, dating back to when he was pulled out of the rotation in April after going 0-3 with a6.95 ERA in four starts, Carrasco has a 1.73 ERA, 0.84 WHIP and .187 (45-for-241) opponents’ average in 67.2 innings (63 strikeouts against 12 walks).
“It’s miraculous, man,” Indians center fielder Michael Bourn said. “I’ve always thought he has great stuff. I’ve seen him since he’s 19. We came up in the Phillies organization almost together. So, I’ve been seeing him for a long time. People don’t understand, when you play at this level, it takes more than one years or two years to get adjusted to it.”
SECOND: I think we can forgive Cookie for the lone blemish on his pitching line.
The RBI single that Abreu delivered came on an 87-mph slider that was out of the strike zone. Chicago’s rookie slugger reached out and flicked the pitch into left-center, scoring Adam Eaton from third base. It was similar to Wednesday night, when Abreu saw seven cutters from Corey Kluber and sent the last one, on a full count, up the middle for the game’s decisive hit in the seventh.
“We’re finding out the hard way,” Francona said, “that with two strikes, you can’t expand the plate too much with Abreu. He can reach just about anything. That’s been a thorn in our side, and probably the rest of the league, too. That’s the only run he gave up.”
Carrasco was able to shrug it off, because he felt he executed the pitch.
“That was a good pitch,” Carrasco said. “I think he was looking for that, because I think I threw it before and I threw another one down and he took it.”
The Indians have found that the best way to attack Abreu is to try to mix things up vertically, or get him to offer at pitches with more up-and-down movement. That might explain why a pitcher as talented as Kluber — whose entire arsenal is more based on lateral movement — has struggled to the tune of a .462 average against Abreu.
In the three-game series, Abreu went 5-for-11 in the batter’s box with two doubles, two walks, two runs and three RBIs against Cleveland. On the season, the first baseman has hit .294 with five homers, 10 RBIs and a .627 slugging percentage in 13 games against the Indians.
Great, Paul Konerko is retiring, but the White Sox already have found their new Tribe killer.
THIRD: It appears that Bourn is feeling just fine these days, following all the left hamstring woes. He robbed Konerko of a hit on Tuesday night with a diving catch that required a perfect sprint. In the finale on Thursday, all the center fielder did was collect a pair of triples in the win over the White Sox.
“I got tested pretty well today,” Bourn said with a smile.
This actually marked Bourn’s second two-triple game of the season for the Tribe. He’s the first hitter in the Majors to have at least a pair of two-triple games in the same year since 2011 (Jose Reyes, 3; Austin Jackson, 2). Bourn and Kenny Lofton (3 such games in 1995) are the only Cleveland hitters to accomplish that feat since 1941.
The others to do so for Cleveland in the past 100 seasons: Gee Walker (2 in 1941), Earl Averill (2 in 1932), Lew Fonseca (2 in 1929), Bill Wambsganss (2 in 1920) and Larry Gardner (2 in 1920).
In the first inning, Bourn tripled and then scored on Jose Ramirez’s groundout to shortstop Alexei Ramirez. On the play, Bourn hesitated, but then sprinted for the plate as soon as the shortstop released the relay throw to first base. Bourn didn’t go on contact, because he had a bad angle and couldn’t tell right away if third baseman Conor Gillaspie had a shot at the chopper. But, as soon Ramirez gloved the ball, Bourn knew he still had time to score.
“I had a bad read,” Bourn said. “I didn’t know if the third baseman had a chance at making the play when he went at the ball. Once I saw it bounce and the shortstop got it, I knew he wasn’t going to be focused on me. As soon as I saw him release it, I was off and running. I felt like it was hard for him to make the throw all the way across and then all the way back home.”
That’s the Bourn Cleveland needs to see more often.
“He desperately wants to be that sparkplug,” Francona said. “And you can see — two triples — he’s pretty into it. He knows how important he is at the top of the lineup.”
HOME: And what about Cody Allen’s importance to the end of the game? In the eighth inning, Bryan Shaw gave up a two-out single and then third baseman Mike Aviles booted a ball for an error, putting runners on first and second base for Adam Dunn. As it happens, Allen entered Thursday holding lefties to a .125 average with 47-percent of the at-bats (104) ending with a strikeout (49).
“When you have a big lefty,” Francona said, “to be able to go to a righty is really valuable.”
Dunn won this battle, sending a duck snort into right field — just out of the reach of second baseman Jason Kipnis — to score a run to pull Chicago within one. No harm done. Allen recovered with four consecutive strikeouts — one to end the eighth and three to finish off the ninth for his 18th save.
A local reporter asked Francona is that was as dominant a four-out save as he’s seen in recent years.
“Oh boy, I don’t know,” Francona said sharply. “I think he had one the other day. He’s pretty good. You maybe need to get cable or something and watch him. He’s pretty good.”
Well, as it happens, it marked only the second four-out, four-strikeout save in the past 100 seasons for a Cleveland reliever. The only other one came on July 28, 1976, when Dave LaRoche achieved the rare feat. It’s happened three times in the American League this season. The other arms to do it are Josh Fields (Aug. 5) and Ernesto Frieri (April 14).
EXTRA: In the sixth inning, Kipnis came through with an RBI single and then went from first to third on a base his by Aviles. On that sprint to the hot corner, Kipnis slid in head-first and was accidentally kicked in the face by Gillaspie, as the third baseman fielded the relay throw. Kipnis was checked out by the trainers and stayed in the game. Said Francona: “He got like a heel to the nose, and I know it hurt and I know he’s probably going to be black and blue. But I was relieved, because I thought maybe it was a finger or something. He’s a pretty tough kid. He’ll be all right.”
NOTE: I will not be making the trip to Kansas City for the upcoming division clash between the Tribe and Royals. You’ll have to forgive me for taking a few days off. It’s MLBastian Jr.’s fifth birthday and it’ll be family time until I return to Indians.com coverage on Tuesday in Cleveland. Keep checking the site and following @Indians and @tribeinsider on Twitter for updates.
Indians (68-64) at Royals (74-59)
at 8:10 p.m. ET Friday at Kauffman Stadium