Confident Carrasco gives big lift to Tribe rotation after blanking Orioles

Carrasco even better in second consecutive start.

Cleveland Indians' Carlos Santana hits a three-run home run off Baltimore Orioles starting pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez in the first inning of a baseball game, Saturday, Aug. 16, 2014, in Cleveland. Michael Bourn and Jose Ramirez scored on the play.

AP Photo/Tony Dejak

CLEVELAND -- To call the Indians rotation patchwork or a construction project would be kind. In fact at many times this season you could say that a house of straw has looked sturdier. For the past week though, the starting staff has put together one of its best runs of the season.

In his second start in less than a week, Carlos Carrasco put together another stellar outing with seven innings of shutout ball as the Indians blanked the Orioles 6-0 at Progressive Field on Saturday.

After pitching five scoreless innings last Sunday against the Yankees, Carrasco earned the trust of Terry Francona to make another start. In seven innings, the right-hander allowed only three hits and struck out five.

"He came out of the chute really attacking, not just his fastball but breaking balls," Francona said. "He had such a good feel for his offspeed but he stuck a lot of fastballs. He didn't get flustered and pitched around things when he got in trouble."

Carrasco gave up a hit to the leadoff batter the first three innings but didn't get flustered. In the first two innings, he got a double play to get out of trouble. After allowing a double to Caleb Joseph to start the third, Carrasco retired the final 15 batters he faced. Also helping Carrasco was the Indians having a three-run first, keyed by a Carlos Santana home run off former Tribe hurler Ubaldo Jimenez.

It is the first time since June of 2011 that Carrasco has worked at least five scoreless innings in two straight starts.

The biggest reason for Carrasco's improvement has been the confidence he has gained since moving to the bullpen. After going 0-3 with a 6.95 ERA in four April starts, Carrasco went 3-1 with a save and a 2.30 ERA in 26 relief appearances. Pitching coach Mickey Callaway said he started to notice Carrasco's confidence begin to increase when he got the win in an extra-innings game June 4 against Boston and then when he got the save with 2 1/3 scoreless innings 12 days later against the Angels.

"You could tell after that he feels like he belongs," Callaway said. "Now when he goes out there and he has his confidence. It doesn't matter if he is starting or relieving. The biggest difference I see now is when he falls behind he doesn't try to make or place a pitch, he just goes with his best stuff."

Two weeks ago, Carrasco came up to Callaway and bullpen coach Kevin Cash and told them that he felt like he deserved another shot as a starter. Francona was hesitant at first but with the Indians having four off days the first three weeks of the month, it was the right time to give Carrasco a shot.

In his two starts, Carrasco hasn't walked a batter and he hasn't gotten behind too many hitters. Of his 156 pitches, 69.2 percent have been strikes (108). Of the 40 batters he has faced, 28 have started out with first-pitch strikes.

"I wanted to attack the inside corner and keep the ball down. When I saw the hitter jump into the ball, I came back inside," Carrasco said. "I've had more fun when I went to the bullpen. Don't try to save anything and just throw hard"

With Carrasco's second straight scoreless start, the rotation has an ERA of 0.69 over the past six games, allowing just three earned runs in 39 innings with 42 strikeouts and five walks. During that span, where the Tribe has gone 5-1, Corey Kluber and Carrasco each have two starts while Trevor Bauer and Josh Tomlin had the others. T.J. House was pitching well on Tuesday against Arizona, but that got washed away after only three-plus innings.

Danny Salazar makes his return to the rotation on Sunday when he will be called up from Columbus.

How much of a future Carrasco has in the rotation the rest of the season remains to be seen. In many ways he could be like Jimenez – there are starts where he dazzles but mostly disappoints. With what he has done the past two outings though, Francona sounds willing to keep giving him the ball.

"He's gone out and earned it from what he has done. That should be rewarding for him and he's deserved it," Francona said. "He's better equipped to pitch whether it is in the bullpen or starting. He feels good about himself, got his confidence and understands who he is. He has taken that mentality into his starts and given us a big lift."