In what may go down as the most brutal shelling in Cleveland Indians spring training this year, Carlos Carrasco was laid with eight earned runs on eight hits in less than two innings on Monday afternoon.
Even against such a vaunted offense as the Chicago White Sox B-Squad, this was unexpected. It was in no way pretty, and caused some consternation in the coaching staff. While it was absolutely a mess, Carrasco certainly did prove one thing. He’s no Justin Masterson.
It’s a weird thing to say about a guy some consider a Cy Young fringe candidate, comparing him to a pseudo-ace from earlier this decade. They’re hard to compare. But if there’s one thing Masterson could do, it’s live off his fastball. For one day, at least. Yes, this is another chance to write about my favorite pitching performance ever.
On July 19, 2011 while facing the Minnesota Twins, Masterson simplified things for his catcher. That day he threw 104 pitches. 103 of those were either his four-seam or sinker, which acts as a fastball out of his hands. He worked 7.2 innings of shutout ball.
It was awesome. The velocity chart looks like this for his outing:
That’s one of the coolest charts I’ve ever seen. Like some kind of shoddy EKG that got briefly unplugged. He pounded the zone too, something like this:
That one little red dot is the lone slider he tossed in to keep the Minnesota Twins off-balance. Somehow, it worked. These were major league hitters. You’d think they’d have caught on after a few innings, though that slider might have created just enough question in hitters’ minds. He was lucky, getting a lot of batted outs, but all that matters is the fastballs and the outs. Both were tallied up by the handful.
At his best, Masterson was a pretty good pitcher, with a fastball that had excellent life to it and a high velocity sinker that fell out of the zone. It just didn’t last long, is all. Carrasco has shown himself to have more general stuff, but he’s never done what Masterson did that one shining day.
At his most extreme since becoming a starter full-time in August 2014, the most fastballs he’s thrown in one outing was 72 against Cincinnati on July 19, 2015. He threw no sinkers that day, 22 change-ups and a few breaking pitches. That’s the best he’s demonstrated. Is it trust, or lack thereof in his fastball? Or more that he just has a really good slider? Any of these are possible. He’s actually never thrown more than a total of 72 fastball/sinkers combined in one game, which is odd since you’d think he’d have been feeling it at some point. But one of the best things about Carrasco is that he’s got so many very good pitches but nothing truly amazing. It makes for a better starter than reliever, and it’s why he has gotten so good.
It’s hard to be actually worried about Carrasco’s repeatedly shaking off Yan Gomes and going back to the fastball simply because it’s spring training. I’m honestly surprised that this doesn’t happen more often. It seems to me that trying a new pitch, or trying something new with one of your classics, would be a great idea against opposing players who are actually trying rather than in a bullpen session or in a simulated game. The opponent isn’t just taking it easy. Some are even trying super hard to make the team, and facing a very intent young prospect probably is just as hard as a coasting full time player.
It is likely we’ll never see what Masterson did again. Certainly not from Carrasco, or pretty much any starter currently on the Indians. Corey Kluber is too crafty (though he could use his four-seam, sinker and cutter, I suppose. That’s pushing it, though), Trevor Bauer too fidgety, Josh Tomlin would get killed. Maybe Danny Salazar, he’s the only one with the kind of fastball that could do it. He just doesn’t have the secondary fastball to make it work though. You need a little deception, even if everything is coming in at 95.
It would have been cool for Masterson to stick around, and be good while doing it, of course. He would have been a nice part of the team, but it was never to be. At least we’ll always have July 19, 2011. For one perfect moment, he was uniquely spectacular.