This wasn’t Carlos Carrasco’s first rehab stint in Akron. The right-hander has been to Canal Park in 2011, 2016 and 2018 in tuneup roles.
None were more important to the 32-year-old than Monday’s one-inning performance against the Harrisburg Senators.
It was only 16 pitches. It was only one inning. But it was a testament to the strength and willpower of a man ready to beat leukemia.
Diagnosed in June, Carrasco was determined to come back to the Indians.
He pitched batting practice in Lake County on Friday, but Monday was Step 1 toward getting back to Cleveland.
“It was really special today,” Carrasco said. “You know I’ve spent 2½ months away from baseball, just coming back today out of the bullpen, it feels great.”
He admitted to nerves and played catch with right fielder Oscar Gonzalez in between innings just to chase away the jitters.
“When I went on the mound everything was fine,” Carrasco said. “When I was in the bullpen, I was nervous. All the guys in the bullpen were laughing and telling me you’ll be OK. I started shaking a little bit. It is what it is. I was excited to come back, but as soon as I threw the first pitch everything was gone.”
Carrasco’s first live pitch was 97 miles per hour to Rhett Wiseman in the sixth inning.
It was one of 11 pitches that went 94-plus miles per hour.
He went one inning and didn’t allow a hit, finishing with one walk and one strikeout. Nine of the 16 pitches were strikes.
He faced the minimum three batters after Ducks catcher Logan Ice threw Wiseman out trying to steal and received two standing ovations from the 4,049 fans and family in attendance.
“That was great to see the fans from the bullpen all the way down to the bleachers,” Carrasco said. “It feels great because those are the people that were behind me the whole way from Day One to now.”
Look I’ve seen a lot of baseball but this moment ranks up there. Carlos comes in throwing 97 (!) and strikes out the last batter he faces, just months after a leukemia diagnosis. Are you kidding me???? Welcome back, big guy. We missed you.@ohiodotcom@Indians#StandForCookiepic.twitter.com/x7VsxmN0Mp— Jennifer Pignolet (@JenPignolet)August 20, 2019
His diagnosis was brought to light on a global scale during the MLB All-Star Game in Cleveland when teammates Carlos Santana, Francisco Lindor, Brad Hand, Shane Bieber and Indians manager Terry Francona joined Carrasco on the field to Stand Up to Cancer.
His spirit has touched everyone from the parent club to the minor-league players.
Sam Hentges began the game against the Senators, but broke protocol as the starting pitcher to talk to the media before the game about Carrasco's first in-game action since May 30.
“It’s really cool, and I’m really sure it was cool for him to be in game action and be out there on the mound with fans in the stands,” Hentges said. “I’m sure all the fans will be here to watch him. Obviously, I have to focus at my task at hand, but given everything he’s been through it’s pretty cool to pitch in the same game as him.”
Hentges was impressed with Carrasco’s heart and perseverance.
“The diagnosis came out and everyone was concerned about his health and well-being and getting back with his family,” Hentges said. “Now, here two months later back in the game. It’s unbelievable. He’s very determined. He loves the game and wants to get back out there and pitch to help the Indians win the ballgames. I think that’s awesome. It’s good for him. His determination is phenomenal.”
Even Ducks manager Rouglas Odor, whose father beat colon cancer, was excited to have “Cookie” in the clubhouse.
It was one inning. It took seven minutes.
But it was something Odor will never forget.
“He sent a strong message to all of us and to the world,” Odor said. “Baseball is just a part of it. Life is way more important. I know how tough it is because my dad went through it. My dad is alive and here with me. I know how hard it is. I know what we think as family members. It’s a strong message to the Indians, our baseball club and to the whole world.”
It won’t be the last time Carrasco pitches for the RubberDucks. He’ll be back Thursday.
That said, it’ll probably be the most memorable.
Stow resident John Gercevic, 64, was in his seat an hour before the game with his family, complete with Carrasco jersey.
“It’s really unbelievable that he’s doing this,” Gercevic said. “It’s amazing. We’re just praying for him. Tonight is a very special night. My family loves him. We feel so bad for him. He’s pushing through and making sure he comes around to the other side. It’s amazing.”