Carrasco returning to scene of emergence

Game 3 starter spent most of 2014 in 'pen before starting -- and dominating -- in Bronx

Carrasco returning to scene of emergence

CLEVELAND -- Carlos Carrasco took the mound on a hot August Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium with a similarly scorching fastball, but a lukewarm manager.

It's something Terry Francona can smile about three years later as he awaits Carrasco's postseason debut there tonight in Game 3 of the American League Division Series presented by Doosan. Carrasco can pitch the Tribe into the AL Championship Series presented by Camping World after its 9-8 win in 13 innings in Friday's Game 2 gave it a 2-0 series lead.

Game Date Results Highlights
Gm 1 Oct. 5 CLE 4, NYY 0 Watch
Gm 2 Oct. 6 CLE 9, NYY 8 (13) Watch
Gm 3 Oct. 8 NYY 1, CLE 0 Watch
Gm 4 Oct. 9 NYY 7, CLE 3 Watch
Gm 5 Oct. 11 NYY 5, CLE 2 Watch

"I wish I could sit here and say, 'Oh, yeah, I saw it.' I didn't," Francona said on Friday.

Carrasco spent most of the 2014 season in the Indians' bullpen, learning how to corral his electric repertoire, posting a 2.30 ERA and allowing a .217 batting average over 26 relief appearances. He had worked once in a week and a half thanks to off-days, but he had stretched out enough in a four-inning appearance that pitching coach Mickey Callaway and bullpen coach Kevin Cash -- now the Rays' manager -- believed he was ready for a start.

"I just thought we were too far into the year," Francona said. "I was hesitant. But those guys talked me into it."

Carrasco mixed a 97-mph fastball and a sinker just shy of 96 mph for five scoreless innings on two hits with four strikeouts. Six days later, he shut down the eventual AL East champion Orioles for seven innings. Carrasco fell one out shy of a shutout of the White Sox the next month, then tossed a two-hit shutout in Houston.

"I think his time in the bullpen was the best thing for him ever," Francona said. "He got a chance to watch the game. I think Cashy was good for him. He got in attack mode, where I think when he was starting, when he was younger, he'd worry the four days in between."

Carrasco was good enough in 2016 that few thought the Tribe could overcome his absence last postseason once an Ian Kinsler comebacker fractured his right pinkie finger. Now, as the Indians head to The Bronx, the big right-hander is a big reason why they can look at hitter-friendly Yankee Stadium unfazed.

"You know what? We're up two games, but [that's] the only difference," Carrasco said of how he will approach the potential clincher, which doubles as his first postseason start.

"Tomorrow, it's going to be the same game, the same guys. We're just going to go out there tomorrow, no pressure, nothing about that. So just go in there and pitch the way the way that I've been doing the whole year."

That in and of itself has been impressive.

"He has really taken off the last few years," teammate Andrew Miller said. "His stuff is second to none. Just like Trevor [Bauer in Game 1], we love having him on the mound. I think there's 24 guys that have confidence in that game when he takes the ball. So we're pretty lucky to have the staff we do."

Carrasco on being up 2-0

Carrasco has remained stingy at Yankee Stadium, where he's 3-1 with a 1.40 ERA in four starts to go with 31 strikeouts over 25 2/3 innings. His turn didn't come up during the Indians' visit six weeks ago, but he has been dominant away from Cleveland, going 11-2 with a 2.65 ERA in 17 starts on the road, another good reason for Francona to start him in Game 3.

By contrast, Carrasco's 7-4 record and 3.99 ERA at home this year includes a loss to the Yankees, who were held scoreless on three hits through four innings on Aug. 6 before a bases-clearing triple from Jacoby Ellsbury fueled a five-run fifth.

Carrasco has no explanation for why he has been so much better on the road. He is excited to pitch, period, tonight regardless of the venue.

And the chance to help the Indians advance to the ALCS will be that much sweeter after watching from the sidelines last October.

"It's a big difference," Carrasco said of coming into this year's postseason with a chance to help. "Last year, my team went to the postseason, the World Series, so I was with them last year, but I couldn't pitch because of my injury to my hand.

"But now, I'm available to enjoy my team this year. I think this is going to be my first time [starting in the playoffs], and I just want to enjoy it."

Jason Beck has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2002. Read Beck's Blog, follow him on Twitter @beckjason and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.