Carlos Carrasco shows Guardians his tank isn't empty

Mar. 25—"Robert Frost could compose with wit at eighty-six. (The Brooklyn Dodgers) slumped in hitless decline at thirty-five."

Roger Kahn, from The Boys of Summer

Baseball, and for that matter any professional sport, is a cruel, heartless reminder of how difficult it is to turn back the clock, yet Carlos "Cookie" Carrasco is attempting to do that very thing.

Carrasco, 37, will be the fifth starter in the Guardians' 2024 rotation. His season is already a success because he was in spring training on a non-roster minor league invitation. He didn't learn he made the team until March 22 when he got the good news from manager Stephen Vogt and Guardians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti.

"I never feel like, 'OK, I already have this,' " the elated Carrasco told reporters covering the Guardians in spring training. "I never feel that way because the same way that I was working in the minor leagues to get here, there's a lot of people now doing the same. So I always work hard.

"It was really emotional because every time, even when I was here in all those years that I signed the contract here in '17, '18 and '19, I always come in here to get a job."

Carrasco posted a record of 88-73 pitching 11 seasons for the Indians from 2009-20. He and shortstop Francisco Lindor were traded to the Mets in January 2021 for second baseman Andres Gimenez, shortstop Amed Rosario plus minor league prospects Josh Wolf and Isaiah Greene. Carrasco went 1-5 with the Mets in 2021 when injuries limited him to 12 starts, but he bounced back in 2022 to finish 15-7 in 29 starts. He slumped to 3-8 last season with a 6.80 ERA.

The Mets chose not to re-sign the likable 6 — foot-4 right-hander from Venezuela. Carrasco, 107-93 with a career ERA of 4.04, faced 6,414 batters over three decades in the big leagues. Maybe the 28 other teams thought he had nothing left in the tank.

Signing Carrasco to a minor-league contract was a no-risk decision for the Guardians — one they were comfortable with and one he was comfortable with because he worked with pitching coach Carl Willis before and because Antonetti knew how important a veteran like Carrasco could be to the pitching staff. Vogt batted against Carrasco in his playing days. Still, Cookie had to prove himself.

Carrasco appeared in five Cactus League games with three starts this spring. He was 1-0 with a 2.57 ERA in 14 innings. His ability to start or pitch in long relief makes him a valuable asset to Vogt.

"There's a lot with Carlos," Anotnrtti said on a Zoom call. "I think first and foremost, he was clear from the beginning of the off-season that this is the place where he wanted to try to continue pitching. He felt so strongly about that, that he was willing to come into camp on a minor-league contract and try to earn a spot on this team.

"I don't think anyone was surprised that Carlos came out and did exactly that. He did it with the work that he puts in every day to make himself the best pitcher he could be. And he also continues to be an extraordinary teammate and leader in the clubhouse. We feel overall we're a better team both on the field and off with Carlos Carrasco as part of it."

Gavin Williams was penciled in as the fifth starter when spring training began, but he has a sore elbow and will begin the season on the 15-day injured list. Tyler Beede was given consideration as the fifth starter, but Beede will be the long reliever at least at the beginning of the season.

Antonetti and Vogt might have to choose between keeping Carrasco or Beede when Williams is ready to reclaim a roster spot.