CLEVELAND -- Since the early days of Spring Training, Indians manager Manny Acta let the superlatives fly when discussing starter Carlos Carrasco. At one point, Acta opined that the young pitcher had some of the best stuff in the American League.
On Tuesday night, Carrasco provided the audience inside Progressive Field with the first real validation of Acta's claims. The big right-hander pounded the strike zone, daring Minnesota's hitters to make contact, and pitched into the ninth inning to lead Cleveland to a clean 1-0 victory.
This win felt incredibly sweet for the Tribe.
"I'm extremely happy for Carlos," Indians designated hitter Shelley Duncan said. "That was exactly what we needed."
It was needed in the sense that the American League Central-leading Indians (34-25) used Carrasco's strong effort to snap a season-high five-game losing streak. Cleveland also ended a seven-game skid at home and an eight-game drought against Minnesota.
"A sigh of relief?" Acta said. "Yeah, for all of us."
This evening was about more than the Indians as a whole, though. This night was a showcase event for Carrasco -- a key component in the 2009 trade that originally sent ace Cliff Lee to the Phillies. Facing a struggling Twins team, Carrasco finally looked like a pitcher with the potential to eventually be a workhorse and an ace.
Carrasco, 24, made five uninspiring starts for the Indians in 2009, and was solid enough in seven turns for the Tribe after a late-season promotion a year ago. This season, Acta trusted Carrasco with the No. 2 role, but the righty entered Tuesday with a 5.18 ERA in 10 outings (he missed two starts due to a right elbow issue).
"I'm happy," Carrasco said. "The key is I need to be focused. Sometimes I try to be too perfect. Sometimes I just want to just strikeout somebody and I throw too many pitches. Today was good."
Acta always kept the faith.
"You have to be patient with him," Acta said. "You really don't want to label a guy who's 24 years old too early. With the pitcher's frame that he has, and the stuff that he has, I can wait for somebody like that. Hopefully this year he turns a corner.
"He pitched well for us in the second half of the season and he's got the stuff to be very good. I have a lot of confidence in him, but he needs to have confidence in himself, too, and get out there and do it."
Carrasco showed extreme confidence during his latest outing.
Rather than rely on making hitters guess with an array of four pitches, Carrasco focused on pounding the zone with his sinker and tempting hitters to chase his slider. It was an approach he discussed before the game with catcher Lou Marson, and a strategy he used to perfection all night.
Typically a fly-ball pitcher, Carrasco (5-3) managed to get 13 outs via grounders in his 8 1/3 innings. That put much of the game in the hands of the Indians' defense, which delivered with a package of routine and highlight-reel plays. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, in particular, put on a show.
In the first inning, Cabrera charged in and used a barehanded grab and throw to rob Ben Revere of a potential leadoff single. In the seventh, the shortstop snared a sharply-hit ball up the middle and flipped it to second baseman Orlando Cabrera to initiate an inning-ending double play.
"He pretty much dominated us out here in the middle of the infield," Twins manager Ron Gardenhire said. "He's pretty good. We kept saying, 'Dumb hitting. Don't hit it to that guy.' But he made some super, super plays."
Carrasco mixed in six strikeouts to match a season high and only issued one walk against Minnesota (22-38), which saw its five-game winning streak come to a close. Along the way, the righty scattered three hits and displayed impressive poise in the one true jam he encountered.
"We kind of ran into a buzzsaw pitcher tonight," Gardenhire said. "Carrasco was very good."
In the fifth inning, after Carrasco retired the first 13 Minnesota hitters he faced in order, Twins left fielder Delmon Young collected a one-out double to center field. Luke Hughes followed with a chopper and narrowly beat a throw from Cabrera for a single.
With runners on the corners, the infielders gathered around Carrasco to discuss the situation. The break in rhythm did the pitcher wonders. Carrasco settled back in, inducing a flyout off the bat of Brian Dinkelman before striking out Rene Rivera to escape unscathed.
"That was big," Carrasco said. "It was really amazing."
Cleveland's lone breakthrough against Twins lefty Francisco Liriano (3-6) came in the fourth inning, when Carlos Santana led off with a double to left. Young fumbled the ball for a costly error on the play, allowing the Tribe's catcher to hustle into third. Duncan then used a run-scoring groundout to put the Indians ahead, 1-0.
That was a critical, albeit unearned run for Cleveland.
"The way we're pushing runners across the plate right now," Acta said, "we needed a guy on third with less than two outs."
Duncan smiled when asked if he thought that one run would hold up for the win.
"I kinda did," Duncan replied. "Yeah."
That speaks to how well Carrasco was pitching.
The biggest key for Carrasco was taming the left-handed hitters in Minnesota's lineup. For the night, lefties went just 1-for-15 against the starter. Carrasco said he went with sinkers early in the count against the left-handers, and those hitters were simply overmatched by that pitch.
"We'd faced him before," Twins right fielder Michael Cuddyer said, "but I don't remember his sinker moving as much as it did tonight. He kept it down and never really left it up. That's why he was so effective."
Acta wanted to give Carrasco a shot at a complete game, but the pitcher had little in the way of leeway. After the starter's 104th pitch resulted in a one-out single to Revere in the ninth inning, Acta decided it was time to turn to his closer, Chris Perez.
As Carrasco jogged off the mound, he received a warm standing ovation.
"Shame on me if I let that kid lose the ballgame," Acta said. "You want to give him a chance to throw a complete game -- absolutely. You don't see that very often nowadays. The way he was throwing the ball, he was capable of doing it.
"But he had to go one, two, three in the ninth."
Perez finished what Carrasco started, sealing the win and notching his 15th save.
After Alexi Casilla grounded out, Perez struck out Cuddyer looking -- much to the disgust of the Twins' right fielder. Cuddyer barked at home-plate umpire Adrian Johnson while the fireworks popped and the Indians took to the field to celebrate a much-needed victory.
"Everything is perfect today," Carrasco said.