Mets find jack of all trades in Carrasco
New pitcher's versatility extends beyond baseball field
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- The '68 Camaro is the prize of his collection -- once white, since done over in black.
"That's probably the only one that will stay around all the time," Mets reliever D.J. Carrasco said.
There is also a '68 Firebird, a '67 Cougar and several trucks, most of them resting in the garage Carrasco built at his Haslet, Texas home. He buys the cars -- "I'm always looking, man," he says in his California speak -- fixes them up and then takes them to the road.
"They're not like collector's items that you go sell at the auction and never put a mile on them," Carrasco said. "I like to burn some rubber."
Speed aside, perhaps it should come as no surprise that Carrasco enjoys driving on winding country roads as much as throttling forward on the highway, in open space, on "any straight line." His pitching strategy is similar.
Entrusted to fill the jack-of-all-trades role left vacant by the departed Hisanori Takahashi, Carrasco can either pump his fastball into the low-90s as a short reliever or use his five-pitch blend as a starter. Though he prefers the latter role, he'll probably end up in the former. And for one of the newest members of a remade Mets bullpen, that much is fine.
"If they're going to give me a multi-year deal, I'll do whatever they want," Carrasco said, referring to the two-year, $2.5 million contract he inked in December. "And after getting here, they said they wanted me to come out and look to start and see what I've got as a starter. I was like, shoot, that's icing on the cake."
Carrasco's hobbies -- or perhaps, eccentricities -- extend well beyond the garage. He enjoys construction and hopes to build his own house someday. He has ideas to create a better fishing pole. He is a health food fanatic, recently convincing teammate Blaine Boyer to mimic his diet for a week.
"He's always got something going on," said Boyer, also a teammate in Arizona last summer. "He'll have some bottle of formula, some crazy herb you can find in Africa or somewhere."
He once had designs on becoming an electrician, but couldn't find a trade school that would abet his pitching career. So Carrasco instead attended community college in rural Arizona where, in his own words, he "majored in baseball."
Though the Orioles selected him in the 26th round of the 1997 First-Year Player Draft, it took six years for Carrasco to finally break into the big leagues in Kansas City. By that time, he had established the multiple arm angles that now define his game, from a three-quarters slot to a drop-down sidearm, and angles in between. The different looks and speeds often confuse batters, expanding his repertoire from four or five pitches to what Dan Warthen classifies as "maybe a little much."
"I don't know if I have a catcher with eight fingers," Warthen said.
Without question, it is the repertoire of a starting pitcher. And Carrasco longs to be a starter, much like Takahashi last year and Aaron Heilman before him.
Also like those two, Carrasco may end up a reliever regardless of his desires. The Mets signed Chris Young and Chris Capuano as starters and have few viable options in middle relief, meaning they may be better served drawing upon Carrasco's consistency in the bullpen. He posted a 3.68 ERA in Pittsburgh and Arizona last season, a 3.76 ERA the year before in Chicago and a 3.96 mark in 2008.
But Carrasco is also nothing if not adaptive. No one ever taught him how to fix cars, for instance; Carrasco and a childhood friend "just wrenched on stuff and pretty much figured it out."
"If somebody put it together, I can take it apart," he jokes.
Now, Carrasco has turned that hobby into something of a business -- he almost always turns a profit on the vintage cars he sells, recently offering to work on former teammate Zach Duke's truck for a fee.
Pitching is somewhat the same. Carrasco has signed his contract, found his comfort zone and should, at the least, become a cog in middle relief for the Mets. But if they ever need something more -- a spot start or a save or a few innings in long relief, for example -- Carrasco has the ability to adapt. To shift gears, so to speak.
"He's just athletic," Warthen said. "He spins at different speeds. He has a bigger curve and a slower curve. He has a bigger slider and a slower slider. Then he sinks it and he cuts it and he four-seams it.
"As far as the pitching goes," Boyer said, "man, he can do anything."