What if I told you that there was a young pitcher on the Cleveland Indians -- acquired in a blockbuster trade -- whose last stint in the majors ended in controversy and questions about his makeup? Someone who wasn't on the Opening Day roster but who Cleveland desperately needed to come up quickly and establish himself as a solidifying presence in a shaky Indians rotation? Someone who would then bring all those questions about his maturity and makeup right back to the forefront his very first start in 2013? You'd probably have a couple of names to choose from.
This time, the winning answer is Carlos Carrasco. The young pitcher -- acquired from the Phillies in the 2009 Cliff Lee trade -- got ejected from last night's game against the New York Yankees for throwing at Kevin Youkilis's head moments after giving up a big home run to Robinson Cano. There was no warning from home plate umpire Jordan Baker, nor should there have been. After all, even though Carrasco was healthy to begin the season after missing all of 2012 recovering from Tommy John surgery, he still had a six-game suspension to serve dating back to his July 29th, 2011 start against the Kansas City Royals. That's when, following Melky Cabrera's grand slam in the fourth inning, he sent a pitch flying at Billy Butler's head and was similarly run from the game. Déjà vu all over again.
Carrasco will deny that the latest high heat was thrown on purpose -- same as he did when he threw at Butler -- and he at least didn't try to physically confront Youkilis the way he did Butler back in 2011. But neither of those things matters. This would be unacceptable behavior for teenagers in their first year of fast-pitch, let alone grown men. Carrasco should certainly be given more than just six games to think about whether or not he can deal with adversity without throwing temper tantrums on the mound that put other players at risk. And, honestly, considering how poorly he was pitching previous to throwing at Youkilis's head, the Indians would be well within their rights to banish him back to the minors for performance reasons alone if their rotation weren't in such a woeful state.
Guy gets docked six games for a purpose pitch. Comes back. Repeats behavior. Isn't that exactly what scouts refer to when they talk about bad makeup?
Many believe Carrasco has company on his own team in that regard. This spring, all eyes were on Trevor Bauer, who came over from Arizona by way of Cincinnati in a three-way deal that saw Shin-Soo Choo leave town. With Bauer came a whole bundle of off-field issues: a rap track that some thought was a direct shot across the bow of starting Diamondbacks catcher Miguel Montero; the YouTube videos about his pitching mechanics; the weird warmup routines that the Arizona brass didn't appreciate; the young pitcher's supposed refusal to "act like a rookie" in Kirk Gibson's locker room. In fairness to Bauer, tough, he wasn't the one talking about this in the media (that was "sources inside the Arizona front office" or, occasionally, Diamondbacks general manager Kevin Towers himself), and he wasn't the one writing columns about it to desperately fill column inches in the slowest "active" time of the baseball year (that was people like me). All he did was mess around with some buddies in a studio after getting trolled on Twitter and while I don't think Bauer has any future in the rap game, it already took some leaps in logic to construe any of those lyrics being pokes at Miguel Montero. If they were, I somewhat doubt Montero gives a damn in the slightest.
Youkilis and Butler, I imagine, feel slightly differently about fastballs at their heads. And that's the primary difference between Carrasco and Bauer.
Sure, Bauer took the mound on Saturday and turned a miserable performance in his Cleveland debut, going 5 innings and allowing 3 runs on two hits -- one of which was a HR -- while striking out two and walking 7 batters. Seven batters! It was an amazingly frustrating outing for the young pitcher -- and the Indians later sent him back down to the minors. But he went out there, did what he could, and took his demotion in stride. He did not start chucking fastballs at batters' heads because he thought they were showing him up; he did not get tossed from the game for his recklessness and force his manager to bring in the next game's starter, gravely impacting the ability of the team to field fully rested starting pitching out of a rotation already on the ropes.
This is not to say Bauer is without his own baggage. In fact, one of the subplots of his time as a UCLA Bruin was a long-running feud with former high school teammate and later rival Cal player Devon Rodriguez; not only would the two constantly chirp at one another whenever they were in game situations -- culminating in Bauer screaming an obscenity at Rodriguez when forcing him out at first base to end a UCLA-Cal game in 2011 -- but Bauer acknowledged intentionally throwing at him at the tail end of a high school intrasquad game years before. He took responsibility for this, though, and vowed to mature, and by all accounts has done so.
These days, his makeup concerns are of a completely different sort: Bauer, whispered unnamed scouts and sources inside the Arizona organization, was uncoachable. He doesn't listen to pitching coaches and always thinks he's got the best way of doing things. There's more than a bit of truth to this -- Bauer has famously said that he's not concerned with commanding his fastball any more precisely than being able to control which side of the plate it crosses -- but that's not really the same as being "uncoachable." And considering the issues that the Diamondbacks have had recently, one has to strongly consider the source, and whether or not Kirk Gibson's staff is actually equipped to properly mentor young, elite talent that has a clear idea of how they want to play their game.
One would hope that walking seven batters in five innings would be a clear sign to Bauer that locating his fastball may be more important than he originally thought, and one would think that Cleveland's organizational pitching coaches are on the case in the minors. As idiosyncratic as Bauer is at times, by all accounts he, like all real competitors, sees adversity as an obstacle to be overcome and a problem to solve. He recognizes that throwing at hitters because they took advantage of his mistakes is not how the game is played, and hurts not only the guy on the receiving end of the pitch, but the team he pitches for -- and, ultimately, his own development as a player. Hopefully, when Carlos Carrasco returns to the mound, he'll have learned to handle adversity the same way.