GOODYEAR, Ariz.: Carlos Carrasco has gotten to the point with his new delivery that he can feel the difference in his arm when he’s lapsing back into his old ways.
So when he threw 59 pitches in a minor-league intersquad game Thursday, he knew his undesirable habits crept back only twice.
“I fixed it and continued to throw,” Carrasco said proudly.
He even gave a quick demonstration, showing the good — an overhand arm slot that resembled a quarterback’s — and the bad — lifting his right elbow in a motion most Ohioans would recognize from “The Chicken Dance.”
Indians manager Terry Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway weren’t totally happy with Carrasco’s 2-for-59 performance and some of the little hits he gave up.
“A little inconsistent,” Francona said, although he attributed some of that to a lack of adrenaline because of the circumstances.
His reaction shows just how minutely scrutinized the four candidates for the final spot in the Indians’ starting rotation will be the rest of the month.
Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister are set as the top three and Francona said Friday that Danny Salazar would likely open the season in the fifth spot, although that’s not etched in stone.
But the final opening is loaded with candidates — Carrasco, Josh Tomlin, Aaron Harang and Trevor Bauer.
Tomlin, 29, is fighting for a position he lost after undergoing right elbow reconstruction in August 2012. Bauer, 23, a former first-round pick acquired in a December 2012 trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks, totally revamped his delivery in the offseason. Harang, 35, with more than 11 years of major-league service, was signed to a minor-league free-agent contract on Feb. 15. Carrasco, 27, acquired from the Philadelphia Phillies in the July 2009 Cliff Lee trade, probably has the best stuff, but has started only 40 games for the Indians.
It could come down to Tomlin and Carrasco, who is out of minor-league options. Callaway believes the decision might be one of the Tribe’s last before Opening Day.
“It’s a tough decision because you want to do what’s best for the team and right now they all can pitch for us in the big leagues,” he said. “But the tougher the decision, probably the better off you are in the long run because you’ve got better guys.”
Francona sounded like he was holding his breath and hoping all four remain in it until the end.
“You don’t know,” Francona said with a sigh. “You pick up the paper every morning and you see somebody has a strained shoulder, somebody turned an ankle. I hope it’s not us.”
It might be natural for Francona to worry because there are so few position battles to concern him. Callaway was more upbeat.
Here’s what Callaway said about the four candidates before Friday’s game against the White Sox.
On Carrasco: “He’s doing great. [Thursday] he probably battled his mechanics a little bit. But prior to that he’s looked really good.”
On Tomlin: “I think he’s back and probably then some. We’ve seen a tick up in his [velocity]. He’s up to 93 at times, which he wasn’t prior to [the surgery] very often. He’s looked really good.”
On Harang: “We know who he is. He’s hauled the most innings in the major leagues since 2006. He’s a good guy to have on the mound, you know he’s going to get deep in the game. And he’s a good guy to have on your team because you know he’s going to pitch a lot of innings.”
On Bauer: “He’s in a really good spot, especially if you look at the end of last season until now, it’s amazing what he’s been able to do. The things he’s done have not been easy. We’re really proud of him for that. Guys are going to have bad days. I chalk up [his last poor outing] to that more than anything. We’re going to stay the course with what we’ve been doing.”
Callaway said the Indians are trying to keep an open mind.
“What it’s going to come down to is pounding the zone and who we think is going to give us the best chance to win for the season,” he said.
Francona sounds like he’s already dreading telling those who aren’t chosen.
“Whoever isn’t in our starting rotation or in our bullpen, there’s a pretty decent number of guys who are going to help us win,” he said. “Sometimes it’s hard to convince them the day they get sent down. That’s why we tried to start working on that atmosphere now, not wait until Opening Day.
“Our job is to do what’s best for our team and make sure our guys know we still care about them even if they don’t hear the news they want to hear.”