“I feel a change comin’ on”

By Anthony Castrovince/MLB.com
On Twitter: @Castrovince

The good news is that the Indians have better reason to feel comfortable about the state of their starting pitching depth now than they did going into the year.

The bad news is they already have pretty ample reason to consider dipping into it.

Justin Masterson stopped his string of less-than-encouraging outings Friday night, but the rotation’s two weakest links – Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar – remain a work in progress and a source of interest.

Indeed, the hot hand of Trevor Bauer has to be a source of organizational temptation right about now, and clubs with large hopes and tiny room for error (especially in light of some current holes in the lineup and some sloppy defensive play) have to take the hot hands as they come.

ImageThat the Indians had so much riding on the young Danny Boy, who has just a little more than 500 innings of professional experience dating back to his 2007 rookie ball debut, was always a risk. The Indians don’t need him to carry their rotation — not yet, anyway. Still, the maximization of the window of the current core, particularly if Masterson walks (though I still think an All-Star break continuance of the contractual conversation is in the offing), is a much more embraceable idea if Salazar’s impressive stuff is in the strike zone.

Salazar, after all, has the greatest amount of upside of any member of this current crop of starters, Masterson included, and that’s what’s makes his 7.71 ERA and 1.929 WHIP through three outings so tough to stomach.

Those early numbers, though, do not necessitate a ticket to Triple-A. At that level, it’s quite possible he’d simply use his high-90s heat to overpower the opposition and gain nothing from the experience. Salazar’s struggles seem purely mental, and he’s better off working with the Tribe’s chief mental mechanic — pitching coach Mickey Callaway, who once turned a jalopy named Ubaldo Jimenez into a $50 million collector’s item — right now, even if it means taking his lumps.

“I think he came into the season trying to live up to what he did last year instead of going out and pitching and having fun,” Callaway said. “I talked to him [Friday] about that. I think he’s going to go out and have fun and not put too much pressure on himself.”

Let Salazar stay in the rotation. Give the kid some time.

Carrasco, though? Let’s just say the leash should be as short as his stamina in his last start in Chicago.

The Indians were rightly frustrated to hear Carrasco tell reporters he was “tired” two innings into that April 11 outing, when his velocity dipped from the 94-97 mph range to 90-92. If Carrasco did not already have a track record of mechanical mishaps and stamina issues, that would be one thing. But his career stats speak for themselves:

First time through the order: .252/.322/.384 opponent slash line (376 plate appearances).
Second time through: .337/.385/.543 (373).
Third time through: .328/.375/.560 (280).

Smells like a reliever to me.

Carrasco will get at least one more opportunity to assert himself in the starting role Sunday against the Blue Jays, and that’s one day before Jason Giambi’s planned activation from the disabled list will cause a little roster shuffling.

“He’s going to get the ball,” Callaway said of Carrasco. “We’ll see what he can do. We asked him to make a lot of mechanical adjustments in a short period of time, because he was out of [Minor League] options and we thought these mechanical adjustments were necessary for him to go out and succeed in the Major Leagues. That’s a tough thing to do. He’s still really battling the inconsistency with those mechanics. The one thing I do know is when he maintains those mechanics over the course of a game, that’s when he has some pretty good outings for us.”

The guess here — and it’s purely a guess — is that Carrasco will either extend his leash or get strangled by it Sunday, because the Tribe really can’t afford too many more clunkers.

Nor can they afford to let the suddenly stalwart Bauer waste away in Triple-A. Through three starts in the season proper — two in Columbus and one spot start against the Padres last week — he’s piled up quality innings and, undoubtedly, a healthy dose of confidence in his resuscitated delivery. His velocity is back, as is the feeling that the Indians took a worthwhile risk in targeting him in trade talks, despite Arizona’s obvious frustration with his approach.

The Indians’ had their own frustrations with Bauer last year. His decision to experiment with pitching out of the stretch in his own Chicago meltdown last summer was a veritable tragi-comedy. But he’s earned his way back into the Major League staff’s good graces with an eager-to-please attitude and a reclamation of mechanics and mindset that once made him successful.

“His last probably six outings — the last few in Spring Training and the three this season — have been great,” Callaway said. “He’s commanding the ball down with his fastball, throwing about 67 percent fastballs. He’s mixing pitches and throwing strikes.”

Right now, that sounds like a satisfying recipe for a rotation that entered the weekend with the third-highest ERA in the Majors. If Carrasco stumbles again Sunday, Bauer looks to be worth another look.

It’s not about overreacting to small samples. It’s about taking the hot hands when you can get them.

~AC

2 Comments

First of all, I’d like to know how many major league starting pitchers wouldn’t “smell like relievers” under that simplistic definition. Most pitchers aside from Justin Verlander don’t get stronger as the game goes along, and lose effectiveness the more hitters see them. Secondly, Carrasco really hasn’t had much of a career to base statistics on, now has he? In fact, the length of his career as a starting pitcher where he has been confident, secure in his rotation spot, and, most importantly, healthy, is exceedingly short. On that basis alone, I’d throw out any starting appearances last year and this year. The kid needs consistent time, and the last time he was really given it, 2011, he started smelling like a well above average starting pitcher. Go back and look at the game logs. In Carrasco’s eight starts spanning late May and June of 2011, he averaged 7 innings a start, with a WHIP of 0.94, and lowered his ERA from 5.00 to 3.54. Then he got hurt in July and the rest is history. Bad history. Unrepresentative history. We have got to stop making snap judgments on players, we simply cannot afford to prematurely fit them into a box because they don’t measure up the way we think they should and when we want them to. Justin Masterson was another big guy with good stuff that the majority of people thought “smelled like a reliever.” Now he’s a horse in the rotation, at worst a major league innings-eater. Carlos can be that guy too, just give him time. I know you think we can’t afford to wait, but only rich organizations have that luxury, not the Tribe. It’s hard waiting for wine to ferment, cheese to ripen, or pitchers to mature, but that’s what we have to do to enjoy the fruit that goes with it.

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