Carlos Carrasco is scheduled to return from the disabled list to start Thursday's series opener for the Cleveland Indians against the Kansas City Royals.Carrasco has been out since April 24 when he badly strained his left hamstring while covering first base. At the time, he was expected to miss four to six weeks, and it's now been 39 days since then, so he's returning within that window, a bit closer to the long end of it. I'd rather err on the side of caution with Carrasco's health, so waiting a week or so longer than some fans hoped for is fine with me.
Carrasco pitched only four innings in his rehab start with Double-A Akron on Saturday, issuing one walk and allowing a home run, while also striking out six. I expect he'll be limited to no more than 90 pitches today, maybe fewer than that. We'll need more than one start to know is Carrasco is really back. If he is, he'll be a massive boost to the team. Since becoming a starter again in August of 2014, Carrasco has been one of the absolute best pitchers in the game, with a 2.95 ERA and 2.68 FIP in 274.1 innings.
The Indians went 18-17 during Carrasco's absence, so it's not as though they collapsed or anything, but obviously any team could use production like Carrasco's, and looking at the performance of the two players who pitched most of the innings Carrasco otherwise would have, you can see what a difference his return could mean.
Trevor Bauer slid into the rotation when Carrasco hit the DL, and he's been fine in that role, with a 4.14 ERA in his seven starts, while coming one out short of averaging six innings a turn. He isn't really Carrasco's replacement, though, because Bauer would have been back in the rotation within a week of Carrasco's injury anyway because Cody Anderson was struggling. Anderson was skipped twice and allowed 20 hits and 11 runs over 16.1 innings in the three starts he did make during May. Mike Clevinger was called up and given a shot at the fifth spot too, and he did even worse than Anderson, allowing 16 hits and 13 runs in 14.1 innings during his three starts. The two of them combined for a 7.04 ERA in their six starts during the last month, and it's a minor miracle the Tribe managed to win three of those games.
If those two were allowed to keep starting, odds are that ERA would drop some, but not anywhere near what we might expect from Carrasco, who could be worth an extra win or two a month over the rest of the season. Given how close the AL Central is right now, with three teams separated by 2.5 games and four teams separated by five games, an extra win or two a month could easily make the difference between a division crown and missing the postseason entirely.