Carrasco hoping to stick in Indians rotation

After lengthy elbow rehab, right-hander ready to compete for big league role

Carrasco hoping to stick in Indians rotation

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Carlos Carrasco has seen enough of the locker issued to him inside the Indians' player development complex in Arizona. He is ready for a new one. A stall in Progressive Field back in Cleveland would be a nice change of scenery.

"For a whole year, I've been here in this locker room," said Carrasco, who glanced at his old friend while motioning toward his nameplate. "This spot -- right here -- by myself."

With Spring Training in full swing for Cleveland, Carrasco has plenty of company right now. It was the same a year ago, but the right-hander was rehabbing his surgically repaired right elbow at the time. When camp broke last season, Carrasco stayed behind, tasked with a daily routine of light throwing, icing, conditioning exercises and patience.

Carrasco is hoping all the work and waiting has paid off.

This spring, there is at least one opening in the Tribe's starting rotation and Carrasco is among the crop of candidates. After missing all of last season, Carrasco understands that he needs to prove to Cleveland's decision makers that he is healthy, durable and ready to help the team win by the time Opening Day arrives.

The competition includes Trevor Bauer, Corey Kluber, Scott Kazmir, Daisuke Matsuzaka and David Huff.

Carrasco believes he is up to the challenge.

"I know there are a couple of spots in the rotation," Carrasco said. "Right now, I'm trying to do the best I can. The most important thing is being healthy for the whole year. It's most important to try to help the team win some games, so we'll see what happens in Spring Training."

During Tuesday's workout, the 25-year-old Carrasco took the mound on Field 6 and threw in a live batting-practice session in front of new Indians manager Terry Francona. The right-hander has no restrictions after more than a year of rehabilitation, and Francona has liked what he has seen from the pitcher in the early stages of camp.

"Carrasco did very well," Francona said.

That is about as far as Francona has been willing to go in publicly evaluating his pitchers right now. It is early, there are no radar guns tracking velocity and the pitchers are concentrating on building their arm strength. Still, seeing Carrasco back on a hill throwing with ease is a great sign for a rotation that needs a lift.

Carrasco has shown his potential in spurts, giving Cleveland a glimmer of hope when it comes to salavaging its 2009 trade with the Phillies. The Indians sent ace Cliff Lee, along with outfielder Ben Francisco, to Philadelphia in exchange for a package of players that included Jason Knapp, Lou Marson, Jason Donald and Carrasco.

Decimated by injuries, Knapp was released by Cleveland last year. Marson is still in the fold as the team's backup catcher. Donald -- a utility infielder -- was traded to Cincinnati this past offseason. Francisco is back with the Tribe as a non-roster invitee for the outfield this spring.

Carrasco is the only chip left to fall.

"With his stuff," Francona said, "the ceiling is up to him."

Carrasco's statistics with Cleveland are relatively underwhelming: a 10-15 record to go along with a 4.93 ERA in 33 career outings between the 2009-11 seasons. In 2011, Carrasco went just 8-9 with a 4.62 ERA in 21 appearances. Within the overall sample, however, have been stretches of overwhelming promise.

One example came is a five-start run from June 7-29 in 2011. Carrasco went 4-1 with a 0.98 ERA, allowing only four earned runs in 36 2/3 innings in that span. He racked up 28 strikeouts and issued just five walks, holding hitters to a .172 average.

"I felt really good," Carrasco understated.

Then came the crash.

Over his next six appearances, Carrasco went 0-5 with a 7.92 ERA in 30 2/3 innings. He gave up eight home runs, walked 17 batters and allowed 27 earned runs during that brutal stretch. Following his Aug. 3 appearance, Carrasco was placed on the disabled list with a right elbow injury. On Sept. 21, he underwent Tommy John surgery on the joint.

"I knew I'd rehab a whole year and be ready for 2013," Carrasco said. "That was what I thought the whole time."

That mentality was tested last August, when the Indians' rotation began to implode and the team suffered its worst showing (5-24) in a single calendar month in franchise history. As September approached, Carrasco was getting ready for a Minor League rehab assignment, and he wondered if he might be able to push toward a return to the big leagues.

"I saw every game," Carrasco said. "I started thinking about going straight to the big leagues -- from [Double-A] Akron to Cleveland. But that wasn't going to happen. Then they sent me here."

After three outings with Akron (Carrasco worked four innings in the Eastern League playoffs), the righty pitched in the Arizona Parallel League. At both stops, Carrasco was sitting in his typical velocity range of 92-95 mph, but he was also hitting 97-98 mph on occasion.

"It was very encouraging where Carlos finished up," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "We were able to see him regain the stuff that he had prior to the injury. He sat comfortably in the low 90s with very good secondary stuff, and most importantly he felt healthy."

Unlike a year ago, Carrasco is now able to join his teammates for normal spring workouts.

That brings a smile to his face.

"I feel free now," Carrasco said.

If he gets his way, Carrasco will be free of his locker soon, too.

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.