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5/29/2007 07:39:00 AM

AL Central: Instant Carmona

Fausto Carmona
The Indians are in first place thanks in large part to Fausto Carmona.
By Joe Lemire

Today, we start with a flashback, and I caution those of you with weak stomachs to look away, as we revisit some horrible rookie carnage.

July 30, 2006: In a 3-3 eighth inning gridlock with the Mariners, Cleveland calls on 22-year old Fausto Carmona to face Richie Sexson with a man on. Having proven himself a reliable reliever, with 11 consecutive scoreless appearances, Carmona seems like a logical choice, and he promptly strikes out Sexson.

Then Carmona goes back out for the top of the ninth. Coincidentally, he would leave the game just before Sexson returned to the batter’s box, as the eight interceding hitters had inflicted enough damage: three hits, two walks, four runs (all earned) and an eventual loss for Carmona.

July 31, 2006: In Boston, the Indians sport an 8-6 lead entering the home half of the ninth. With Alex Cora, Kevin Youkilis and Mark Loretta due up, it seemed like a relatively harmless way for Carmona to notch his first big-league save and regain some confidence. Well, Cora singled, Youkilis walked, Loretta popped up and then David Ortiz strode to the plate and did what Big Papi does best -- walkoff home run.

Aug. 2, 2006: It’s the series finale with the Red Sox, and this time Cleveland takes a one-run lead into the ninth. Eric Wedge goes to the bullpen and, yes, it’s our poor protagonist, Mr. Carmona. This time the young right-hander starts with two strikeouts, quickly retiring Wily Mo Pena and Coco Crisp.

Sure, he hits Doug Mirabelli with a pitch, but Carmona seems to be in command. He’ll settle down, right? Oops, well he hit Alex Gonzalez as well. No big deal, he just needs to get Youkilis. Oh wait, he walked him to load the bases. At least Carmona got Loretta out two nights before, so ... nevermind, he just gave up a two-run double off the Monster. Game over. Carmona has now lost in three straight appearances, including two blown saves.

Aug. 5, 2006: The third time’s always the charm, right? Taking a 3-2 lead into the ninth, Wedge sends Carmona to the hill. It’s obvious where this one’s going. A single-strikeout-force out sequence brings Ivan Rodriguez to the plate with one on and two out. Wait for it, wait for it ... and, yep, a walk-off homer -- Carmona has now lost in four straight appearances, including three blown saves.

How Carmona had any even a shred of confidence left after what I presume to be the worst week of his baseball life, I will never know. Smartly, Wedge didn’t pitch him again until five days later when the Indians had a 14-2 lead. Carmona pitched two scoreless innings then but was still very shaky the rest of the season. He returned to the rotation for four starts, actually throwing well in three of them but he’d still finish the year 1-10 with a 5.42 ERA, 1.59 WHIP and those three blown saves in his only opportunities.

Yet the native of Santo Domingo, D.R., has done the unthinkable. Living a normal life free of shell shock would have been miraculous in itself, but Carmona has become Cleveland’s most reliable pitcher and is the surprising answer to the trivia question, What Cleveland Indians starter has gone at least six innings and allowed no more than three earned runs in each of his last eight starts?

C.C. Sabathia has been terrific this season but lasted only five innings against Seattle two starts ago and yielded six runs at Oakland on May 11. Paul Byrd has been great -- 5-1 with a 3.81 ERA -- but he’s given up at least four runs twice in his last three outings. And save your breath before even suggesting Jeremy Sowers (1-4, 6.29), Jake Westbrook (1-2, 7.90) or Cliff Lee (2-2, 5.86).

Cleveland’s had three reliable starters in its first-place start, and the best of the bunch has been Carmona. His strikeouts numbers are down from last year -- 3.32 K/9 this year, 6.99 K/9 in 2006 -- but that’s a sign of him not over-throwing and challenging hitters more, as his BB/9 has improved, from 3.74 to 2.45.

Of course, for now the only statistic of Carmona’s the Indians care about is his wins: six and counting.

  • Joe Knows Bo. No, not this Joe, but Joe Posnanski of the Kansas City Star wrote a great column remembering the Bo Jackson for the 20th anniversary of his rookie year with the Royals.

  • Twins blogger Batgirl has called it quits. Noted for her Lego re-enactments and encouragement for fans to adopt Twins players as boyfriends, made her final post and even received some press from the Star-Tribune.

  • So much for that touted Indians-Tigers series: the Indians pulled the sweep in Detroit. At least they meet again this weekend.

  • If it’s about Gil Meche, you know Fungoes is all over it. When the Royals and Mariners first faced each other in April, Royals Review speculated on the loyalties of the fine folks of Grass Creek, Wyoming -- located almost exactly halfway between K.C. and Seattle. Well, with the rematch this past weekend (a Mariners sweep), Royals Review made an important update, complete with correspondence from a Grass Creek native. The lessons to draw from these posts: geography is fun, there’s not much exciting with the Royals’ on-field product and Grass Creek natives prefer the Colorado Rockies.

  • Your next New York-Penn League update: It’s a little harder to keep you posted about the Oneonta Tigers, as they are likely the only minor league club without a team-sponsored website. At least their park, Damaschke Field, is receiving a much-needed renovation. There’s no mention, however, of an upgrade to the world’s worst press box. The announcer, scoreboard operator and scorekeeper occupy the only seats actually in the box, relegating the press to a folding chair precariously placed on top of the rickety construction, with access only by a ladder. You can find photos of pre-renovation Damaschke here.
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    posted by SI.com | View comments |  


    Posted: May 30, 2007 10:00 PM   by Anonymous
    As a dedicated Twins fan, I am very concerned about Hunter leaving the club at the end of the season. On the other hand, Terry Ryan has a knack for nurturing talent. With probably only a few good years left in Hunter (I'm assuming injuries will play a factor at some point) I have to play the role of optimist in this scenario. I'm sure there's some young stud none of us has heard about that is wooing the scouts, but please, someone give me a name.
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