A couple of old friends were back in town over the weekend. Jason Donald and Carlos Carrasco returned to the Lehigh Valley as members of the Columbus Clippers, where they were sent in the deal that brought Cliff Lee to the Phillies last July. It wasn't the first time they were back to play at Coca-Cola Park, since when they were traded, Columbus just happened to be in town last season and they just carried their stuff from one clubhouse to the other, just a very short move across the hall.
With some time to truly appreciate the deal and their new environment, both have settled in and feel comfortable as members of the Columbus Clippers and both are still just one step away from the majors.
"I felt like I kind of fit in from day one," reported Donald as he sat at his locker after battling his former team. "All the people that I've met within the organization are quality people and there are a lot of quality people in Philadelphia, too. I'm very grateful for the time that I was able to spend there."
One thing that's changed for Donald is his position. During spring training, the Indians had him playing primarily at short, but once the season started, Donald was suddenly moved to second base and he's played there in 24 of the 30 games that he's played this season. The Phillies saw Donald primarily as a shortstop, but did move him around a little last season in hopes of building up his versatility and to see if he could potentially play third base for them in case they would have had trouble filling the spot during the off-season. Also, the Phillies were looking at Donald as more of a utility player in the long-term and less as a player who could come in and hold down his own spot in the lineup.
"I think the Indians are trying to put me in a position to get to the big leagues as quickly as possible. For now, at least, they see me as a second baseman and the more I play there, the more comfortable I get over there," said Donald. As for reaching the majors, Donald might have been in line for a promotion when Jimmy Rollins went down with an injury earlier this season had he still been in the Phillies organization, but he doesn't look at it as a missed opportunity and doesn't really think about what might have been. "Not at all, to tell you the truth, because I'm focused on what I'm doing here. I still follow the Phillies, but it's not something that I really think about. I hope he [Rollins] gets healthy in a hurry."
Second base could be a quicker path to the majors than short for Donald, since the Indians are currently using Luis Valbuena (.167) and Mark Grudzielanek (.281) at second. With Valbuena's numbers sinking this season, on opening for Donald might not be too far away. Valbuena is a career .249 hitter in 121 major league games coming into this season and Grudzielanek came out of retirement to play this season, so neither are cemented in at second in the Cleveland lineup. If Donald does get a call to Cleveland, he would be the second of the four players traded for Lee and Ben Francisco to reach the majors. Catcher Lou Marson started in the majors this season and is slowly getting adjusted to playing at that level and has slowly pulled his average above the Mendoza line.
"Lou [Marson] and I, we're boys and we talk. I talked to him about a week-and-a-half ago and he's doing better and hopefully, he'll sustain it," reported Donald of his old teammate.
In some ways, Jason Donald seems to be a little more driven now than he was at this point last season. He doesn't really know why, but for some reason, Donald had gotten away from some things that he felt helped him, but he's now returned to more of his old routines, like keeping a notebook on every pitcher that he faces and how they pitch to him. He also studies himself more and is mindful of things that he may be doing at the plate that could throw him into slumps. When he came into town, Donald had hit in seven of the last nine games, going 12-for-30 (.400) during that streak. Through the first three games of the series with Lehigh Valley, he was a disappointing (1-for-13) .077 with seven strikeouts. Donald though was quick to realize what he was doing wrong and finished out the series with a 3-for-5 day.
"It's all about having a routine and being able to stay ahead of the game. I believe that helps prepare me," believes Donald, who dismissed putting any added pressure on himself with the trip back to the Lehigh Valley. "I don't think there was any added pressure necessarily [coming back to the Lehigh Valley]. I felt like I was swinging the bat pretty good before I got here and it just so happened that I got into a little bit of a funk."
Not far from Donald's locker in the Columbus clubhouse is Carlos Carrasco who, like Donald, had worked his way through the Phillies organization before being dealt to Cleveland. Carrasco also says that he's comfortable in the Indians organization, but was happy to get a chance to see some old friends on the IronPigs roster. This Carlos Carrasco is slightly different from the one that was in the Phillies organization. For one, he carries himself in a more confident way and truly looks and acts comfortable in his surroundings. One other difference is a mechanical adjustment that the Indians have made, which Carrasco believes has made a lot of difference.
"They have me staying back a little more and when I was in the wind-up, I used to look down at the ground, but now they have me just staying focused on the catcher," said Carrasco.
Carrasco has started well this season (2-1, 3.41 in six games) and is hoping for a call to the big leagues. Some of his confidence comes from the fact that he almost got that call out of spring training, but was optioned out on the second last day of camp. "They made the decision to send me down, but we'll see what happens. I think I'll get to the big leagues again," said Carrasco, who started five games for Cleveland last season and went 0-4 with an 8.87 ERA. Since then though, Carrasco believes that he's gotten a lot stronger and it's worth noting that throughout his career, Carrasco has struggled when he first moves to a new level of ball.
The last piece of the puzzle in last July's deal was pitcher Jason Knapp. He was what Cleveland considered to be the centerpiece of the deal, but he wound up on the DL not too long after the trade and has struggled to get back on the mound. The Indians hope that he can resume pitching from a mound in the next couple of weeks and might be able to pitch in the minors sometime in the early part of July.