Luis Rojas couldn’t hide his excitement. His smile and optimistic outlook were obvious.
After months of waiting, it looks like Carlos Carrasco is closing in on making his Mets debut. In the latest sign that the veteran right-hander is progressing from the torn right hamstring that has sidelined him all year, he threw a simulated game at Citi Field before the Mets hosted the Pirates for a Saturday doubleheader.
“The stuff we saw is a really good big league pitcher’s stuff,” Rojas said before the Mets’ 6-2 loss to the Pirates in Game 1. “Above-average fastball with ease, an above-average changeup action, and the breaking ball [looked good]. He’s got a full repertoire. All his pitches just play. Right now we just need to see how he responds.”
Carrasco, 34, threw 29 pitches spanning two innings against Luis Guillorme, Jose Peraza and Billy McKinney, and used all of his pitches, throwing fastballs, sliders and changeups. His hamstring seemed fine — he even backpedaled for a pop-up several feet behind the mound that bounced off his glove — and his command appeared there.
The next step is uncertain. Rojas said Carrasco could begin a rehabilitation assignment or throw another simulated game. Once he does begin pitching in the minor leagues, Rojas was unsure how many starts he would need before rejoining the team. Carrasco could build up his arm strength at the major league level, meaning just one outing on the farm is possible.
“He’s a veteran pitcher, so I think nobody knows better than him, as far as where his arm is,” Rojas said. “That’s a conversation the performance staff is a part of, because the strength in his hamstring plays a big factor. It is now where we want it to be.
“After today, we’ll see what the next step is with him. That was really good today.”
Carrasco was supposed to be a key element to this team, after coming over in the blockbuster trade that brought Francisco Lindor to the Mets in early January. But Carrasco was injured in spring training and suffered a setback in May. The Mets have since brought him along slowly.
Getting Carrasco back now would be a significant development for the first-place Mets, who are extremely thin on starting pitching. Tylor Megill, who began this year at Double-A, is now entrenched as the team’s No. 4 starter. Joey Lucchesi is out for the season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. David Peterson isn’t expected back anytime soon after suffering a right oblique strain. And Noah Syndergaard, following a setback in his road back from Tommy John surgery, is eyeing a September cameo.
Carrasco owns a lifetime ERA of 3.77 and was integral to some lights-out rotations in his days with the Indians. He would be a major upgrade, considering the Mets have had to start the likes of Jerad Eickhoff, Robert Stock and Corey Oswalt.
“It would be huge,” Rojas said. “As you guys know, we’re in need of starters. We had a couple guys already go down. … Cookie coming in now would be outstanding.”