July 7, 2022

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Cookie keeps Mets' MLB-best rotation dealing

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NEW YORK — Carlos Carrasco clapped his glove with his right hand as he walked off the Citi Field mound. The Mets were in the later stages of a statement game against one of the National League’s best teams. They had nearly polished off a 6-2 victory on Thursday afternoon to take their fourth consecutive series and become the first MLB club to reach double-digit wins (10-4), quieting those who still doubted their ability to do it against the best.

And yet the most significant statement may have been the performance of Carrasco, who proved over 7 2/3 innings that he can still be a force on a Major League mound.

“It’s good for everybody to get a reminder,” manager Buck Showalter said.

In his most dominant performance since joining the Mets, Carrasco retired 18 consecutive batters from the second through the seventh innings. When that streak ended on an error, Carrasco immediately induced a double-play ball to erase the baserunner. He became the first Mets starter this year to pitch into the eighth inning, and he nearly completed it; it took Mike Yastrzemski’s solo homer with two outs to end Carrasco’s day.

Even that, however, did not spoil Carrasco’s afternoon. He allowed only three other hits and one additional run, striking out seven.

“That’s the Cookie I know,” said shortstop Francisco Lindor, who watched Carrasco win 60 games over his best four seasons in Cleveland before coming with him in a trade to New York last January.

When Carrasco finally walked off the mound, he did so amidst a rousing ovation from a matinee crowd of 28,760. The scene stood in stark contrast to what Carrasco experienced last summer, when he missed the first four months due to a right hamstring strain, then struggled to induce outs upon his return. Only after the season did Carrasco reveal that he needed surgery to remove a bone fragment from his right elbow. He underwent the operation and reported to Spring Training, as Showalter put it, with “a little look in his eye.”

“There’s not that constant focus on every time he cocks his arm,” added Showalter, who kept his sunglasses on throughout the cloudy afternoon because he did not want to jinx his starting pitcher. “He’s in a good spot. Let’s face it, the big thing is he’s healthy. We all know what Carlos is capable of when he’s healthy.”

Health is not the only thing that’s buoyed Carrasco. The veteran has also changed up his pitch mix; while the differences have been subtle, Carrasco is relying less on his hard stuff than ever before. Over his first two starts, Carrasco threw just 38.3 percent fastballs, which would be the lowest rate of his career over a full season. He altered that by throwing fastballs on nearly half his pitches on Thursday, but only enough to tick his season average up to 41.6 percent. That’s still the second-lowest rate of his career.

According to catcher Tomás Nido, the key has been figuring out what’s working on a given day and leaning on it, rather than using a one-size-fits-all formula. On Thursday, for instance, the cold weather prevented Carrasco from gripping his breaking balls the way that he wanted, so he and Nido relied more liberally on fastballs and sinkers.

“It’s completely different this year,” Carrasco said. “To have four pitches for strikes, that’s even better. Sometimes, I go out there and I only have two, and I just try to figure it out. But for my last three outings, it’s been great.”

In those starts, Carrasco has gone undefeated with a 1.47 ERA — lower than his more heralded rotation-mates Max Scherzer, Chris Bassitt and Tylor Megill. Those four, Taijuan Walker and David Peterson have combined to produce a 2.10 ERA as starters, which is tops in the Majors. So is their 0.83 WHIP and their .174 opponents’ batting average. (In fact, the Mets feature the only rotation to hold opponents under the Mendoza Line.)

That wasn’t supposed to happen following Jacob deGrom’s injury diagnosis in late March. But it has happened because of Megill. It has happened because of Peterson. And it most certainly has happened because of Carrasco.

“The pedigree’s there and the want-to’s there,” Showalter said. “Everybody pulls for Carlos. He cares so much. I think he’s in a good spot physically, mentally and emotionally, and he’s got some help.”

Added Carrasco: “All my pitches have been working. And that’s what I want for the whole season, too.”

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