The Indians’ starting lineup on Sept. 1, 2009:
The Indians’ starting pitcher that day was Carlos Carrasco. Of the 52 players who appeared in games for the Indians that season, Carrasco is the only one still with the team.
That start 10 years ago was not just his Indians’ debut, it was his major league debut. It came a little over a month after Carrasco was the bow on the package of four prospects the Phillies sent to the Indians in exchange for reigning Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee.
Carrasco, in fact, saved that trade for the Indians. The other three players they got were Jason Donald, Jason Knapp and Lou Marson.
Starting with that September start in 2009, Carrasco began his roller coaster major league journey — all of it with the Indians — which has been punctuated by him evolving into one of the most accomplished and consistent pitchers in the major leagues while on the mound, and one of the unluckiest off it.
In 2011, it was Tommy John surgery, which caused him to miss all of 2012. In 2015, it was non-invasive heart surgery. In 2016, on the eve of the postseason, he got hit by a line drive and suffered a broken hand. In 2018, he got hit in the elbow by a line drive, necessitating him being placed on the injured list for the seventh time in his career.
Carrasco’s eighth trip to the injured list came June 5 this year. This time with an undisclosed blood condition.
On Friday, the condition was disclosed.
He is 32 years old. He and his wife, Karelis, have two daughters and three sons. He is probably the Indians’ most active player in civic and charitable causes. In each of the last four years he was nominated for the Roberto Clemente Award. His Carlos Carrasco Foundation, which is dedicated to young children, has collected over 12,500 books for children. Born in Venezuela, he became a U.S. citizen in August of 2016.
He never dodges reporters after a bad start. He never gets into trouble off the field. He is a great teammate. I mean, come on, his nickname is “Cookie.” Does that sound like a squeaky wheel?
He is the picture of professionalism on and off the field, a player to whom his teammates gravitate.
He has had his darker moments. He was suspended twice by Major League Baseball, in 2011 and ’13, for throwing at hitters. That was during the period when his career seemed to be teetering on the edge. He was trying to establish himself in the big leagues, and the harder he tried, the more things went sideways.
In 2014, he seemed so out of whack mechanically and out of sorts mentally that the Indians, out of sheer desperation, sent him to the bullpen. It seemed like Carrasco’s last chance. The team’s decision-makers seemingly had closed the book on him ever being a quality major league starter. So they sent him to the bullpen — not as a closer, but just as a guy — hoping to salvage what they could from the Lee trade.
Then something clicked.
The bullpen thing worked. In Carrasco’s first four years with the Indians (2009-13) he had a 5.29 ERA, and opposing batters hit .297 against him. In 2014, he made 40 appearances, the majority of them out of the bullpen, and he had a 2.55 ERA and held opposing batters to a .209 batting average. His strikeouts per nine innings went from 5.8 in 2013 to 9.4 in 2014.
The light bulb went on, and Carrasco went off. In 2015 he went back into the rotation, won 14 games, averaged 10.6 strikeouts per nine innings and got some Cy Young votes. From 2015 to 2018 he had a record of 60-36, a .625 winning percentage, a 3.40 ERA and finished fourth in the Cy Young voting in 2017, when he led the league with 18 wins.
All that earned him a four-year $47 million contract extension last winter.
Then came 2019. He made 12 starts. Felt lethargic in some of them, and it showed. His fastball velocity was alarmingly down.
The doctors ran some tests, and on June 5 he was placed on the injured list with an undisclosed blood condition, which Carrasco disclosed Friday, during a TV interview in the Dominican Republic.
Some forms of the disease are treatable, and in his TV interview Carrasco said, “I’ll be back at the end of July.”
There are times in sports when the games remind us what is sometimes easy to forget: that the athletes aren’t robots. They have lives and worries and complications, just like the rest of us.
This is one of those times.
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