Posted on August 29, 2019, by Bryan Zarpentine
The Cleveland Indians are finally getting some good news on the injury front, and it could turn out to be the feel-good story of the year. Indians manager Terry Francona said Wednesday that starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco will return to the team on Sunday and work out of the bullpen for the rest of the season. Carrasco has been out since early June after being diagnosed with leukemia but will return to the majors three months after his last appearance for the Indians.
The 32-year-old Carrasco has one more hurdle in his return. In June, he was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia, which is considered one of the more treatable forms of cancer. He was away from the team while receiving treatment and didn’t publicly state that he had leukemia until early July. It was at that point that he indicated that he was getting close to throwing bullpen sessions, doing so long before anyone expected.
He’s already made three minor league rehab appearances, and he’s scheduled to make one more on Thursday. Barring anything unexpected on Thursday, the Indians will follow through on their plan to activate him on Sunday when rosters expand to 28 players.
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“The plan is to activate [Carrasco] on the first — which is Sunday,” Francona said in a radio interview on Wednesday. “If all goes well [Thursday] with his last bullpen outing, we’ll pitch him out of the bullpen.”
Carrasco has only logged 3.2 innings in his three minor league outings, allowing one run on two hits. He’s not yet stretched out as a starter, and there’s not enough time left in the minor league season to give him more appearances. However, the Indians believe that Carrasco will be able to contribute out of the bullpen during the final month of the season.
“When [Carrasco] started throwing bullpens, just to see his face light up and to have him in the dugout, and see our guys react to him was really cool,” Francona said on Wednesday. “We said, ‘If these bullpens lead to him pitching for us, that’s icing on the cake.’ What’s more important in life, by a big distance, is his wellness. He seems so excited to be pitching again, and we’re excited to have him.”
In his 12 starts prior to going on the Injured List, Carrasco was 4-6 with a 4.98 ERA. That’s a down season by his standards. But his ERA jumped over half a point over his last three starts when the symptoms of the leukemia may have been having an impact on his performance. Now Carrasco has to transition to pitching out of the bullpen, something he hasn’t done since 2014.
The good news is that the Indians won’t have to push Carrasco straight into a prominent role in their bullpen. Cleveland’s bullpen already has four pitchers with an ERA under 3.00, not including closer Brad Hand, who owns a 3.17 ERA. But Carrasco will add a little more depth to the bullpen, which can’t hurt with the Indians fighting on two fronts heading down the stretch.
At the moment, the Indians trail the Twins by 3.5 games in the AL Central. Meanwhile, they own the top Wild Card spot but have both the A’s and Rays within striking distance. If Carrasco can contribute in any way over the next month, the Indians will gladly take it. However, more than anything, they are thrilled to have him back so soon after his bout with cancer.
“He’s a big part of us,” says Francona. “He knows that, and he knows he’s cared about. But it’s going to be fun having him back.”