For three years in a row he has been the top-ranked pitcher in the Phillies system. For three years he has given reason to believe that somewhere down the line the team would have a dynamic 1-2 punch in the rotation.
There is plenty left to be seen with Carlos Carrasco, and the results could swing in so many directions, but Thursday night is the one we have been anticipating for three years. If “likely” becomes “definitely” and Carrasco is called up to fill the void Antonio Bastardo’s injury created in the rotation, the long-awaited glimpse of the future will finally arrive.
Carrasco’s development in the minor leagues has been at times dazzling and at times difficult to watch. His was not a smooth transition from one level to the next, constantly growing as a pitcher on a steady plane toward the big leagues. Instead, it included several bumps along the way, several long stretches of starts where nothing seemed to work for the Venezuelan righthander.
But in the middle of his fifth season in the Phillies farm system, Carrasco is about to get his first taste of the spotlight, and it will come against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field on Thursday. The pitcher who for three years has carried with him hopes of becoming a No. 2 starter will do just that. He follows the team’s struggling ace, Cole Hamels, who will pitch Wednesday. It seems only right that if Carrasco is successful and sticks in the rotation, it will be behind Hamels.
After working his way through rough patches in April and May, Carrasco’s ERA in June was 4.06 with Lehigh Valley. His last two starts have been stellar, allowing two runs over 13.1 innings and striking out 12. The curveball that Brett Myers taught him in spring training has developed into another out pitch, which coupled with his low-to-mid-90s fastball and devastating changeup should make him a complete starting pitcher. In recent weeks Carrasco has begun to put a slider to use. His further expanded repertoire is essential for the major league level, where it takes multiple out pitches to fool professional hitters.
Carrasco’s pitching coach with the Iron Pigs, Rod Nichols, was glowing after Carrasco’s outing Friday night.
“I used the word ‘electric,’” Nichols said. “His stuff was electric.”
Furthermore, Nichols said that “he does have stuff that would play at the big-league level.” That has always been the key with Carrasco, who despite high ERAs and troublesome outings has always maintained an assortment of quality pitches. Once he’s pitching against Chipper Jones and Brian McCann, it will come down to his mental makeup and ability to use those pitches in the right spots.
Carrasco is equipped right now with the stuff to be a pitcher at the top level of baseball. Reining in all of his talent and directing it all into the most important game of his life will be the next step toward establishing himself.
Thursday night will be special for Phillies Nation. Four seasons ago on May 12, Cole Hamels made his debut in a Phillies uniform, spinning 5 shutout innings of one-hit ball and striking out 7. It was the start of what will be a long and illustrious career for the lefty. But Hamels has spent three seasons as the best pitcher on the staff without a No. 2 anchor behind him. Carrasco has always been that potential second starter, and with the pitching market drying up lately, the Phils might need him to be just that. Thursday he gets his shot.