CLEVELAND -- The Cleveland Indians made it to the seventh game of the 2016 World Series despite having just two healthy starting pitchers, Corey Kluber and Josh Tomlin, in the rotation, but heading into the 2017 postseason, the cupboard is a little more stacked.
After being injured last September and battling through elbow issues in spring training, right-hander Carlos Carrasco returned to the front end of the Indians’ rotation and finished the regular season with an 18-6 record and 3.29 earned run average over 200 innings of work.
“He’s a bona fide ace in our mind,” Indians center fielder Jason Kipnis said. “The guy goes out there, and when he’s on, he’s pretty lights out and he’s pretty hard to hit.
“He’s a perfect complement to Corey, back-to-back guys that just have a plan, that know what they want to do and get it done. It takes usually more than one swing to score runs off them, and that’s what you want out of pitchers.”
Behind a standout performance from Carrasco and two-run home runs from Kipnis and catcher Roberto Perez, the Indians (100-59) earned a 5-2 victory over the Minnesota Twins (83-76) at Progressive Field Thursday, and reached the 100-win mark for just the third time in franchise history.
On the way to his 18th win of the season, which drew him into a tie with Kluber for the team lead, Carrasco scattered six hits and one walk, and struck out a season-high 14 Twins hitters over 8.1 innings.
It was Carrasco’s fifth double-digit strikeout performance of the season and 15th of his Major League career.
“It gives you another option,” Perez said. “Last year, we kind of missed him. We did a pretty good job, but you add an arm like he has, I mean, that gives Tito another option to go to. Finally, he's healthy and I'm just looking forward to watching him pitch in the playoffs.
“He’s huge for us. He was consistent all year long, and for him to be able to pound the strike zone and throw strikes, he’s pretty consistent with his work ethic and every five days, he gets the ball, he wants the ball, and he’s one of our leaders out there in the field. I’m happy for him.”
In the first inning Thursday, Carrasco allowed a two-out walk to shortstop Jorge Polanco, and despite letting the runner advance to second base on a wild pitch, he gathered himself and struck out first baseman Kennys Vargas swinging to end the frame.
After a leadoff single from right fielder Max Kepler in the top of the second inning, Carrasco got designated hitter Robbie Grossman to ground into a fielder’s choice, and then, registered back-to-back swinging strikeouts from catcher Jason Castro and left fielder Mitch Garver.
In the fifth inning, Carrasco worked around a leadoff single, and later, a two-out hit that put runners on the corners. However, Carrasco earned the three outs with swinging third strikes, which gave him a new single-season career best for strikeouts (226).
“I think this was a really good way for him to lead into a playoff start,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.
“I think he feels really good about himself. Like I said, it’s the first time he’s thrown 200 innings, but he looks like it’s the first day of the season. I think that’s a credit to his ability to work and his routines. It was fun to watch.”
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