Rays manager helped right-hander turn '14 season around as Indians bullpen coach
By Hal Bodley
ST. PETERSBURG -- Joey Butler lined a single to center, a loud sigh from the Tropicana Field crowd vibrated around the park, and it was over.
Kevin Cash, Tampa Bay's young manager, swallowed hard. He felt good and bad at the same time. Cleveland's Carlos Carrasco, with an overpowering pitching performance, came within one strike of no-hitting the slumping Rays in Wednesday night's 8-1 loss before Butler's two-out hit in the ninth inning.
The single scored Asdrubal Cabrera, who'd walked moments before Carrasco hit Brandon Guyer with a pitch. After Butler singled on an 0-2 slider, Austin Adams relieved and got the final out in the 8-1 victory.
The Trop crowd of 11,394 was on its feet as the ninth inning began and gave Carrasco thunderous ovation as he left the mound. He doffed his cap and said later it was a wonderful moment.
But as difficult as the jarring setback was for Cash there had to be a hint of satisfaction deep down inside.
It was Cash, the Indians' bullpen coach the past two seasons, who coaxed and lectured Carrasco about how good the strapping right-hander could be.
Hour after hour in the bullpen, Cash, now the youngest skipper in the Major Leagues, at 37, would preach about being more aggressive -- stop being so tentative.
"Everything I learned last year in the bullpen I bring [to the mound] this year," said Carrasco, who's now 10-6 with a 3.88 ERA. "He's [Cash] unbelievable. He always told me to go hard -- for the entire game. That's what I did today."
The Rays, who've been in a hitting slump of late, were completely baffled by Carrasco's four-pitch repertoire. He had a perfect game through 6 1/3 innings before Butler walked with one down in the seventh. Evan Longoria ended that threat, bouncing into a double play.
At one stage, Carrasco struck out nine of 13 Rays he faced. He ended with 13 Ks, 10 groundouts, two flyouts and one lineout in his 124-pitch effort.
Cleveland manager Terry Francona had Cash as a backup catcher for parts of three seasons (2007-08, 2010) when he managed the Red Sox. He was so impressed with Cash's baseball savvy when he took the Indians job in 2013, Cash became his bullpen coach.
Cash held that position for two seasons until he was the surprise choice to succeed the legendary Joe Maddon, who left the Rays to manage the Chicago Cubs.
"The guy [Cash] on the other side may be responsible [for Carrasco's gem]," Francona said after the game. "And he might not be so happy tonight. He's taken that and look what he's done with it. He deserves a lot of credit for his work and his diligence and all the words that [relate to that]. You'd see Kevin in Spring Training at 5:30 or a quarter to six in the morning, and it's paying off. It's paying off for us."
Carrasco was moved to the bullpen after he struggled as a starter in April last season. In the bullpen, Cash worked with him on finding a better routine and becoming more aggressive.
Carrasco -- they call him "Cookie" -- started pitching out of the stretch exclusively and really cut down his pre-start warmup routine, once he was moved back to the rotation in August. He finished with an 8-7 record, a 2.55 ERA and was one of MLB's top starters over final two months.
The strong finish earned him a long-term extension this spring.
Cash tried his best to play down his role with Carrasco, but when pushed, said: "He always had great stuff, thought it seemed like he wanted to conserve himself early in the outings, his starts. I think he learned a better way to go about it -- 'to go as hard as I can go for as long as I can until you come and take the ball from me.' "
Cash insisted Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway deserve much of the credit -- "and Carlos for the work he put in."
Callaway, who was drafted and broke in with the Rays, shrugged off Cash's suggestion.
"We just always preached to him being aggressive," said Callaway. "I think in the past he kind of backed off and tried to locate the ball too much - picked at the zone instead of just being aggressive and giving the hitters his best stuff. Tonight, he did that."
Pausing, Callaway added: "I'm sure Kevin is proud of him. He put a lot effort and hard work into getting Carrasco where he is. He did a tremendous job with him. Before, he tried to pitch to the corners and was not aggressive. That kept him from getting ahead in the count. When he gets ahead, the hitters are in trouble.
"Kevin Cash was instrumental in the transformation. He went to one-inning stints out of the bullpen that allowed him to do that."
Carrasco, 29, who lives in nearby Tarpon Springs, said the ovation from the fans "was wonderful. I had my whole family here and something like 25 friends. When I went out there in the ninth inning the fans were all screaming and I felt great.
"Everything [was working]. Every pitch in every count. I just missed that spot right there with Butler. I almost made it. The slider, change and curveball -- it was perfect. I set them up with the fastball and everything was there."
Carrasco's bid came after fellow Indians starters Cody Anderson and Danny Salazar worked -- before losing -- no-hitters in the first two games of this four-game series.
And as difficult as it obviously was for Cash, having him in the other dugout made it even more special for the Venezuelan native who was originally signed by the Phillies and attended Spring Training in Clearwater, just 25 miles away.
As a footnote, the Indians obtained him at the 2009 July non-waiver trade deadline in the highly publicized deal for Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee.
But Wednesday night belonged to Carlos Carrasco, the pupil who made his teacher proud in a bittersweet way.
Hal Bodley is the senior correspondent for MLB.com. Follow him @halbodley on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.