HOUSTON -- Carlos Carrasco emerged as one of baseball's most overpowering arms over the final two months of last season. On Wednesday, the Indians right-hander will take the mound in Houston, aiming to show that he can continue to be a weapon within the rotation.
Cleveland is counting on Carrasco.
The Indians officially announced on Tuesday that they have signed Carrasco to a four-year contract extension that includes a pair of club options, which could keep the big righty in a Tribe uniform through the 2020 season. The deal is worth a guaranteed $22 million but has escalators that could drive the total value up to $48 million over the life of the contract.
"Last year, we saw Carlos develop into one of the most effective pitchers in all of baseball in the second half," Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said. "We believe that he'll continue to anchor our rotation, alongside Corey Kluber, as we move forward."
Carrasco's pact includes team options worth $9 million for 2019 and $9.5 million for '20, and the pitcher can earn as much as $4 million in incentives in each of those seasons. If Cleveland elects not to pick up either option, Carrasco would receive a $662,500 buyout. He will earn $2,337,500 million in 2015, followed by $4.5 million in '16, $6.5 million in '17 and $8 million in '18.
Carrasco -- the last remaining piece acquired in the 2008 trade that sent ace Cliff Lee to the Phillies -- is also a testament to Cleveland's patience.
"They never gave up. They always gave me an opportunity," Carrasco said. "That's what they did last year. They gave me a big opportunity, and I didn't waste it."
Prior to last summer's career turnaround, the 28-year-old Carrasco looked like he had missed out on a final chance to be a starter for the Tribe. He opened last season with an 0-3 record and a 6.95 ERA in four starts, extending a streak of winless starts to 17 to match a dubious franchise record. In that unfortunate streak, which dated to 2011, Carrasco went 0-12 with an 8.09 ERA.
The Indians moved Carrasco to the bullpen in late April, and former bullpen coach Kevin Cash went to work with the pitcher on altering his routine, approach and pitching style. As a reliever, the right-hander thrived, spinning a 2.30 ERA in 26 appearances into early August. That is when Cash (now Tampa Bay's manager) and pitching coach Mickey Callaway urged manager Terry Francona to give the pitcher another shot at starting.
"They were responsible for it," Francona said. "Cashy kept saying, 'He's ready. He's ready.' And Mickey was like, 'He's ready.' And part of me was like, 'It's not that easy to insert somebody that's not stretched out.' And then the other part of me was like, 'Well, he's found a pretty good home. Let's not mess it up.' They kept pushing. ... We decided to do it, and he kind of took it and ran with it, which was pretty awesome."
Over his final 10 starts last season, beginning with five scoreless innings against the Yankees on Aug. 10, Carrasco went 5-3 with a 1.30 ERA and 78 strikeouts in 69 innings. Carrasco is 19-26 with a 4.30 ERA in 88 games over parts of five Major League seasons with the Tribe, but he ended last year with a 2.55 ERA and 140 strikeouts in 134 innings.
Among pitchers with at least 10 starts in the final two months of last season, Carrasco ranked first in the Majors in opponents' on-base plus slugging percentage (.481), second in ERA (1.70) and opponents' batting average (.194) and fifth in strikeouts (83). In that grouping of pitchers, only Kluber, Clayton Kershaw, Chris Sale and Max Scherzer had more strikeouts than Carrasco over August and September.
"It was one of the highlights of our season last year," Antonetti said, "to watch Carlos take all of the potential that he's shown in the past and then combine that with a really aggressive mind-set, where he worried about just attacking the hitters. ... That change in his mind-set, and that change in his approach when he pitched, allowed him to have the success that he's had."
Carrasco was thrilled to have that success lead to financial security.
"I feel happy. I'm going to be here for the next four years and up," he said. "I just want to take it, and from there, just work hard now. I just wanted security, and I wanted to be here. I like to play, and I like Cleveland."