Mets pitcher Carlos Carrasco at spring training on Friday in Port St....

Mets pitcher Carlos Carrasco at spring training on Friday in Port St. Lucie, Fla. Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa Loarca

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — It is amazing what a difference being able to straighten your arm can make.

That is the lesson learned this spring training by Mets righthander Carlos Carrasco, who after a mess of a year in 2021 — injured most of the season, ineffective for the rest of it — says not only does he feel healthy again, but he can fully unbend his right arm, too, after having a bone spur in his elbow surgically removed. Such flexibility has allowed his split-changeup and his slider, a pair of key secondary pitches, to return to top form.

Now he is hoping the results will do the same.

“It’s completely different,” Carrasco said, “from last year.”

Pitching coach Jeremy Hefner added, of Carrasco not having full use of his arm: “It makes it very difficult to pitch.”

The early feedback on the split-changeup in particular has been very positive, with hitters and coaches noting a steeper drop compared with its flatness last year. Catcher Tomas Nido, who faced Carrasco during a recent live batting practice session, called it “so gross,” which is a compliment.

While in Tampa during the lockout, Carrasco received similar reviews when he worked out with a collection of current and former Phillies, including J.T. Realmuto, Rhys Hoskins, Andrew McCutchen and Brad Miller.

“If he told me it was coming, I wasn’t going to hit it,” Nido said. “That pitch righty-on-righty is unbelievable. It’s a weapon for sure.”

That is a stark change from 2021, when Carrasco still threw the split-changeup but it was, as Nido put it, “definitely not as sharp.” Opposing hitters batted .283 and slugged .434 against it, up from .256 and .372 the year pr\ior.

The slider, which Carrasco said acted more like a cutter but now has its regular movement back, suffered as well. After batters managed a .165 average and .318 slugging percentage against it in ’20, those figures jumped to .250 and .481 in ’21.

The rest of his statistics worsened as a result. His 6.04 ERA was more than double his 2.91 mark from the year before (in the same number of starts).

More than a torn hamstring, which kept Carrasco sidelined for more than four months, the problem when he returned last summer was a bone spur in his right elbow. He had dealt with the superfluous, protruding bone for seven years but it became an untenable situation last season. In October, he had it surgically removed.  

“It was like something was stuck in there,” said Carrasco, who is on track to be ready for the season-opening rotation turn.

Hefner said: “There is a reason why things happen. If a guy has poor performance or whatever — especially that’s off the tracks of his career and who he is and he does something that’s completely different — then there’s something going on.”

Why did Carrasco even pitch, then? Hefner pointed to the rest of the rotation situation. Jacob deGrom was dealing with injuries and wound up not pitching at all in the second half. Noah Syndergaard kept hitting setbacks in his return from Tommy John surgery. Taijuan Walker was regressing after his All-Star first half.

Carrasco had entered spring training 2021 looking like the team’s No. 2 starter.

“I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but we lost Jake, Taijuan was [struggling],” Hefner said. “Maybe he felt the pressure to pitch. So maybe in normal circumstances he doesn’t have to as much. It’s one of those things where he’s getting it up for the team, he’s trying to be a good teammate and go out there and give us his best. Sometimes you’re limited.”

Not anymore, though, Carrasco said.

“It was really hard, because I use that pitch,” he said of the split-changeup. “I use that pitch to strike them out, get ground balls, things like that. I need that pitch. That’s my second pitch after my fastball. So I’m glad that I have it this year.”


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