Twenty-six final thoughts as the Indians won their fourth consecutive series and five of the past six as they push for a playoff berth.
1. Carlos Carrasco is a new man. If the 27-year-old Indians right-hander didn’t know it already, he got affirmation from catcher Yan Gomes Thursday. And it seemed to mean a lot to Carrasco, whose first four starts this season were so disastrous that manager Terry Francona demoted him to the bullpen.
2. Carrasco’s nickname is “Cookie,” for the obvious reason that he loves the sweet treats. “Today Gomes told me, ‘Now you’re Cookie, you like to have fun and everything. But when you’re in the game you have a different mindset. You’re way different,’” Carrasco said.
3. Since he returned to the starting rotation on Aug. 10, Carrasco is 3-0 with a 0.73 ERA in four starts. He’s struck out 15 in his last two outings, including seven White Sox. He’s notched three consecutive quality starts. He won his first game against the White Sox Thursday after going 0-4 with a 6.81 ERA in his previous seven outings (six starts).
4. Before the game, Francona said Carrasco has been in attack mode for four months. “It’s something I learned in the bullpen,” Carrasco said. “Attack, that’s what pitching’s about.”
5. Because of that, Carrasco said he has changed the way he pitches. “A lot. I feel way different from April. Everything I learned in three months in the bullpen I bring to the starting rotation,” he said.
6. Carrasco has also changed the way he warms up. When he was starting in April, he took 30 minutes. On Thursday, he spent 10 minutes. “I took a rest for two minutes and I threw 10 to 12 more, that’s it,” he said. “The way I pitch in the bullpen you have to be ready right away. It’s something I do; I don’t want to change anything.”
7. Francona loved that Carrasco continued to attack as he held the White Sox to one run on four hits in 6 2/3 innings. “He established his fastball, he held it. When he kind of saw the end coming, he reached back for a little more. He had a good touch on his breaking ball and his changeup,” Francona said. “When you're coming out of the bullpen for an inning or two, maybe you have one pitch working, or if you don't have one pitch working, you can go to something. But when you're starting, you need to have three pitches. That's been really impressive, because he's gotten comfortable with all three pitches.”
8. Considering the three months in the bullpen, Carrasco’s endurance has also been impressive. He threw 77 pitches on Aug. 10 and increased to 79, 90 and 103. “He's in great shape. He's a strong kid,” Francona said. “It's worked out really well, where he hasn't had a big increase in each game. And part of that is because he's pitching so well. It's been really good.”
9. Center fielder Michael Bourn has been watching Carrasco since 2003, when they were signed by the Philadelphia Phillies. (Bourn was a fourth-round draft choice, Carrasco a free agent.) They never played together at the same level, but Bourn kept tabs on who was in the organization.
10. “I think that’s miraculous,” Bourn said of Carrasco. “I’ve seen him since he was 19. People don’t understand when you play at this level it takes more than one or two years to get adjusted. You’ve got to let your nerves relax because you have a lot of things going on. I didn’t have success when I first came up. It took me some time to get used to the speed of the game and how to slow myself down and have confidence and know you can play. Right now it looks like he’s on top of his game. He’s a good punch to have behind (Corey) Kluber going down the stretch.”
11. Bourn had two triples, giving him nine this season. He became one of seven Indians to notch two two-triple games in one season; he also did it on June 25 at Arizona. Before Bourn, the last Indian to join that list was Kenny Lofton with three two-triple games in 1995. Before that, it hadn’t been done since 1941.
12. Coming back to form after being activated from the 15-day disabled list Aug. 15 with a left hamstring strain, Bourn went 3 for 5 and scored the Indians’ first run in the first inning. He raised his average to .272. Bourn also started the season on the DL with a problem with the same hamstring.
13. “It was really hard on me when I hurt the hamstring the second time,” he said. “I kept telling myself, “You’ll be back. You’ve got time. Just make sure to get as healthy as you can and try to get some at-bats. You’re timing might not be right when you first get back, but just keep fighting.’ That’s all I wanted to do.”
14. The White Sox still lead the season series 9-7. They went 7-3 against the Indians at U.S. Cellular Field after going 1-9 in 2013. A big reason for that is the addition of first baseman Jose Abreu. The leading candidate for American League rookie of the year, Abreu is batting .294 (15 of 51) against the Tribe with two doubles, five home runs, 10 RBI and a .627 slugging percentage. He drove in a run Thursday with a third-inning single to left on a 2-2 slider from Carrasco.
15. “We're finding out the hard way that with two strikes you can't expand the plate too much with Abreu,” Francona said. “He can reach just about anything. That's been a thorn in our side, and probably the rest of the league, too.”
16. Jason Kipnis may have a bruised nose on Friday after being hit in the face by the heel of third baseman Conor Gillaspie on a head-first slide in the sixth inning.
17. “He got a heel to the nose, and I know it hurt and I know he's probably going to be black and blue,” Francona said. “But I was relieved because I thought maybe it was a finger (injury) or something. He's a pretty tough kid. He'll be all right.”
18. Francona didn’t think it was all that unusual that right-hander Cody Allen struck out four consecutive batters in the eighth and ninth to earn his 18th save.
19. “Oh boy, I don't know. I think he had one the other day,” Francona said to a Chicago reporter. “You maybe need to get cable or something and watch him. He's pretty good.”
20. A search of Baseball-Reference.com showed that it was only the second four-out, four-strikeout save in Indians’ history. The other was by Dave LaRoche against the Boston Red Sox in 1976.
21. The Indians’ victory, coupled with the Royals’ 11-5 loss to the Twins, cut the Royals' lead over the third-place Tribe in the American League Central to 51/2 games. The Indians are four games out of the second wild card.
22. “We think we can get in,” Bourn said. “The thing is not to look too far ahead. Don’t focus on what everybody else is doing every day. All we can focus on is what’s in here and when we’re going to play.”
23. Bourn confessed he looked at the scoreboard once and saw the Royals and Twins tied 5-5. “We’ll look at times, but don’t look forward to the next series and the next series after that. Just focus on the series you’re in,” he said.
24. I get a sense the Indians believe things are coming together. The starting pitching is stronger behind ace Corey Kluber, not only with Carrasco, but T.J. House and Trevor Bauer. Players like Bourn, Michael Brantley and Kipnis are heating up. Kipnis is batting .400 in a four-game hitting streak. Brantley has an RBI in three of his last four games.
25. “We have confidence in ourselves,” Bourn said. “This is a big series coming up in Kansas City. Every series is a big series to me from now on. There’s no such thing as ‘This series doesn’t matter.’ They all matter. They should matter from day one, but they get crucial at the end of the season.”
26. The music playing in the Indians’ post-game clubhouse sounded like a soundtrack from a Disney movie. Reporters entered to “With A Little Help From My Friends,” but it was not the Beatles singing. The playlist was so bad that Kipnis asked beat writer Paul Hoynes if he had any songs on his cell phone. Perhaps it was punishment from a White Sox staffer. But as corny as the aforementioned song sounded, it summed up how the Indians are going to have to continue to win.