CLEVELAND -- Carlos Carrasco did nothing on Saturday afternoon to end the debate about his potential as a rotation fixture. The Indians starter showed that there are areas still in need of work, but he also gave glimpses of the overpowering arm that won him a job this spring.
It was an inconsistent performance that summed up Carrasco's career to this point.
Cleveland remains convinced that Carrasco can develop into a front-line starter, but his first outing of the season sent the Indians on their way to a 7-3 loss to the Twins at Progressive Field. The Tribe tried to rally late, but the five-run hole Carrasco dug early proved too deep to overcome.
"The damage had been done," Indians manager Terry Francona said.
During Spring Training, the competition for the fifth spot in the rotation came down to Carrasco and Josh Tomlin, who both had Tommy John surgery. Carrasco is now two seasons removed from his operation and -- with no Minor League options available -- the Tribe chose to give him the job.
Carrasco has frustrated fans in the years since being acquired from the Phillies as part of the July 2009 trade that shipped Cy Young Award winner Cliff Lee out of town. Bursts of brilliance have been followed by lopsided lapses, but the Indians have focused on the former while holding out hope for Carrasco's future.
"Those are things we're trying to break through with him," Francona said of Carrasco's inconsistency. "It's there. And we know it's there."
It was more of the same for Carrasco on Saturday, as his performance helped the Twins hand manager Ron Gardenhire career win No. 1,000. Gardenhire joined Francona as one of only five active managers to have at least that many managerial victories.
"We were sorry it didn't happen last year," Gardenhire said of the milestone. "To get it done now, we can move forward and concentrate on this baseball team and make it right. It's good stuff."
Francona has nothing but respect for Gardenhire, but he was hardly celebrating.
"I wish it would've come in the next series," Francona said. "He's been good at what he does for a long time."
Two pitches into the afternoon, Brian Dozier laced an 0-1 offering from Carrasco to deep left field, where the ball bounced off the railing atop the 19-foot wall for a leadoff home run. It was an impressive blast, considering the strong wind that was blowing through the ballpark.
"To hit a ball out to left today, you had to really, really hit it," Francona said. "That started us off and kind of got everybody's attention. Then, it's like, OK, you give up a solo homer. We're going to have to score anyway. But they were able to keep stringing their at-bats together and add to that, which really hurt us."
Carrasco later allowed a one-out double to Josh Willingham and issued a two-out walk to Trevor Plouffe, setting up consecutive RBI singles from Jason Kubel and Josmil Pinto that put the Indians behind, 3-0.
In the third inning, Carrasco opened things up by hitting Chris Colabello with a pitch. Plouffe then came through with a run-scoring double that increased Minnesota's lead to four runs. A pair of passed balls by catcher Yan Gomes allowed Plouffe to cross the plate to put Cleveland at a 5-0 disadvantage.
"I threw a lot of strikes, but I missed my spots, too," Carrasco said. "From the first inning, I started a little bit slow. That's what happened."
Cleveland's offense was unable to get much going against Twins starter Kyle Gibson, who was charged with one run on three hits in his five innings. The right-hander struck out three and walked four, and he limited the little damage he allowed. The Tribe's lone breakthrough against Gibson came in the third, when Lonnie Chisenhall doubled and scored from third base on a wild pitch.
"He was pitching to both sides of the plate," Indians outfielder Michael Brantley said of Gibson. "He was getting ahead early and mixing in his offspeed. He did a great job of keeping us off-balance. It was a tough day out there today."
In the bottom of the ninth -- after Indians reliever Vinnie Pestano allowed two runs in the top half -- the Indians did what they could to rally against Twins lefty Glen Perkins. Asdrubal Cabrera came through with an RBI double and Gomes contributed a run-scoring sacrifice fly, but the comeback fell short.
As rough as Carrasco was out of the gate, he recovered well enough to pitch into the sixth.
Within the first 14 batters he faced, Carrasco allowed six hits and surrendered the home run to Dozier. In the final 14 batters he faced, the starter gave up just one hit and struck out five. On the day, he gave up five runs (four earned) on seven hits and seven strikeouts, two walks and two hit batsmen.
The debate about Carrasco will carry on.
"There's a lot to like," Francona said. "But we've got to get them out."