(CNN)It’s not an everyday occurrence that a baseball pitcher receives a standing ovation from the crowd when they make their way to the mound.
But Cleveland Indians star Carlos Carrasco had the 4,000-plus fans at Akron’s Canal Park on their feet as he stepped out of the bullpen in the sixth inning and jogged onto the field.
Carrasco’s warm reception was because he was making his first minor league rehabilitation appearance after being diagnosed with leukemia on June 5.
“It feels great because those people were behind me the whole way,” Carrasco told the MLB website. “From day one until now.”
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A surprising comeback
The Venezuelan missed the entire 2012 MLB season after undergoing Tommy John surgery — ulnar collateral ligament reconstruction.
And on his road to return from his leukemia diagnosis, Indians manager Terry Francona said Carrasco was pitching around 90-93 miles per hour in a simulated game last week.
But the right-hander quickly proved he had even more in the tank as on the first pitch of his rehab assignment with Cleveland’s AA affiliate in Akron. Carrasco fired in a 97 mph which surprised even himself.
“You know what, it feels great because the first time coming back from two and a half months without baseball and just a couple bullpens, maybe three or four bullpens, and the first pitch is 97 [mph],” Carrasco said.
“Right away, I looked back to the scoreboard because I just wanted to find out what was that pitch, and it was 97 mph and it feels great.
“I was surprised because all my pitches were way different than before. Even my changeup, too.”
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Returning to the big time
If Carrasco’s on-field performances made him popular in Cleveland, his off-field ventures have also made him a beloved figure there.
With the help of his wife, Karelis, the Venezuelan set up the Carlos Carrasco Foundation which funds early childhood education in Cleveland and back home in Venezuela.
Last Saturday, Francona said the plan was to keep Carrasco on a reliever’s program to ease him back into baseball and eventually back to the Major Leagues in Cleveland.
“I think when he started thinking about building up as a starter, it kind of seemed a little daunting, a little far away,” the manager said.
But following an outing which included 11 of his 16 pitches clocking in at 94 mph or higher, Carrasco’s return could be sooner rather than later.
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“I’m ready to go,” added Carrasco. “We’ll have to wait until tomorrow to see what is the next step.”