According to Paul Hoynes, on twitter, the Indians have finally moved Carlos Carrasco back into the bullpen. In the short term, this means Zach McAllister will be making his expected start on April 30th against the Angels going on short rest, while Carrasco should become almost immediately available in bullpen. Trevor Bauer is the most likely candidate to fill in the rotation after one great Major League start and an amazing beginning to his season in Columbus.
In the long term, however, this could be for good. Carrasco’s struggles have been well documented on burningriverbaseball.com, but they have almost always come late in games. His effectiveness in the first three innings has been impressive to the point of keeping him in the rotation as long as it has, but his inability to remain effective in a game may have doomed him to a relief role for the rest of his career. It’s not like this is anything new in baseball. For each undependable Cliff Lee prospect who can come back from the depths, there are ten Jason Davis’ roaming the league’s bullpens as veteran long relievers.
Carrasco’s most telling statistics in this matter are his numbers the second time through the line-up. In his career, he had already been bad, seeing his batting average against jump almost 100 points from .246 to .344 from a hitters first at bat in the game to his next. This has become even more extreme this season as batters are hitting just .250 against him the first time through and .406 the second time.
In addition to his struggles, another major reason in prompting this change right now is that the Indians are struggling as a team. If the Tribe’s other four starters were going seven innings per game and the team was four games ahead of .500 than below, they would be much more likely to stick with one struggling starter. Since this isn’t the case, there isn’t room in the rotation for both Danny Salazar and Carrasco, who are posting similar results. The major difference between the two is that Salazar still has a great chance to become an ace in the future, while Carrasco should already be reaching his prime and still can’t pitch confidently past the third inning.
Carrasco’s replacement’s readiness could also have had something to do with the change. If there was no better options, the Indians could be willing to stick around awhile longer, but that is not the case. In addition to Bauer, Josh Tomlin and T.J. House have been excellent in a starting role in AAA. Of these, however, Bauer has been the best, posting a 1.40 ERA through four starts. His 9.8 K/9 will fit in well with the rotations high strike out rates and his average of more than six innings per start should be a welcome respite. Like Salazar, Bauer has a great chance to be a huge part of the top of the rotation in the coming years and he will need to progress at the Major League level this year to be great in the future.
The one part of the equation that is unknown is who will be sent down to bring Bauer up. To find room for Jason Giambi, the Indians lost their eight man bullpen, sending Blake Wood back to Columbus, but there is no obvious candidate left. Since Carrasco will be returning to the pen, it will return to eight men and as the weakest member with options, C.C. Lee, seems the most likely pitcher to be optioned. If Francona would prefer to keep his big bullpen, he does have weak hitting utility infielder, Elliot Johnson, who has gotten into only five of the Indians’ 26 games so far. There hasn’t been a single game he was truly needed in, so if Francona and Chris Antonetti feel the need to keep Giambi on the roster, Johnson certainly seems expendable. Whether it is either Lee or Johnson who is sent down, the team will be considerably stronger with a new man in the rotation and Carrasco in relief.