CLEVELAND — Carlos Carrasco has frustrated managers and pitching coaches since breaking into the big leagues in 2009.
Now in his sixth year with the Indians, he finally appears to be on the right track.
Carrasco tossed seven scoreless innings Saturday night, allowing three hits without a walk, as the Tribe cruised to a 6-0 victory over the Baltimore Orioles.
First baseman Carlos Santana belted a three-run homer and left fielder Michael Brantley added a two-run shot for Cleveland, which trails Detroit by 4½ games in the AL wild-card race.
“We’re trying to win so desperately right now, and it’s really worked out well with Carlos as a starter,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He’s gone out and earned his spot, so he should feel very satisfied.
“I think he has the confidence that maybe he was lacking in the past. I also think he feels good in his skin, which shows every time he goes out to the mound.”
Carrasco (5-4, 3.27 ERA), who retired the final 15 batters he faced, struck out five and didn’t allow a Baltimore runner to reach third base.
The 27-year-old Venezuelan now has two wins and 12 scoreless innings in two outings since returning to the rotation — after failing to post a victory over a 17-start span dating back to July 5, 2011.
“It’s a lot of fun for me, pitching is something that I feel good about,” said Carrasco, who went 0-3 with a 6.95 ERA in four starts to open the season. “Going to the bullpen was kind of fun, but starting, that’s my job. I just want to stay there.”
Carrasco’s turnaround began with his demotion to a relief role April 29. In 28 appearances since that date, he is 5-1 with a sparkling 1.80 ERA in 55 innings.
Chen-Chang Lee, Nick Hagadone and Bryan Shaw pitched the final two innings to complete the shutout for the Tribe.
“If we pitch well every night, we have a chance,” said Francona, whose squad has won five of its last six games. “This whole homestand, that’s what we’ve gotten from our guys.”
Santana and Brantley both homered off Orioles starter Ubaldo Jimenez (4-9, 4.83 ERA), who spent the last 2½ years as their Cleveland teammate. The righty was rocked for six runs in 4⅓ innings — including an RBI single by Jose Ramirez — and walked three.
Baltimore manager Buck Showalter was very unhappy about Jimenez’s performance, which could cost him his starting spot.
“We’re going to take a step back and see what direction we want to go with it,” Showalter said. “We have to continue to put our best foot out there. It might be Ubaldo, but tonight, obviously it wasn’t.”
The Orioles finished with four hits, which was only two more than Santana managed by himself.
Santana’s first-inning blast to straightaway center traveled 422 feet, giving him a team-leading 21 homers. Brantley’s fifth-inning dinger gave him 18 on the year, which made him the only AL player with a .300 batting average, 18 homers, 10 stolen bases and 80 RBIs.
“Ubaldo is so hard to get a bead on because he can throw any pitch at any time and change speeds as much as he wants,” Francona said. “Carlos was able to turn on a neck-high fastball, and Brantley only got one ball that he could drive, but he nailed it.”
The victory guaranteed that the Indians will win their season series with Baltimore, which wraps up today. In two games at Progressive Field, the Orioles are 0-2 and have scored one run in 20 innings.
Contact Brian Dulik at firstname.lastname@example.org.