In the fall of 2007, I’d just moved back to Cleveland after living out of the area for the prior six years. The Indians were in the midst of playoff baseball and one of the first games I had the great fortune to attend was game two of the ALDS between the Indians and the Yankees. It will easily go down as one of the most memorable games I’ve seen in person, and not just because of the bugs (I swear, I never saw any midges in my upper deck section). I was amazed by Fausto Carmona’s performance, and the calm determination he showed in a close playoff game against a team like the Yankees. This was even more impressive after I saw replays of his bug-coated face as he pitched late in the game. Unfortunately, there have been more low points than high points for Carmona in an Indians uniform since that fateful night, and Monday night’s game against the Rockies was no exception.
Probably the lowest point for Carmona (prior to this season) came in June of 2009. After a terrible start to the 2009 season, the Indians decided to take drastic measures –they sent Carmona down to the Arizona Rookie league to work with pitching coaches and a mental skills coach. In defense of the decision, many people pointed to the fact that the Toronto Blue Jays sent Roy Halladay down to Rookie ball in 2001; he eventually returned to win 19 games in 2002 and 22 games in 2003. When the Tribe made the move in 2009, Carmona was 2-6 with a 7.42 ERA; in 2010 he bounced back to finish the season with a 3.77 ERA and an All Star Game appearance. Carmona may not be Roy Halladay, but his strong return initially made it look as if the plan paid off. Do you know what Carmona’s bragging rights are for 2011? So far, he leads American League starters in losses, and he’s allowed seven runs in a start four times this season – the most in Major League Baseball. In Carmona’s last eight starts, he’s allowed at least four runs each time for a 1-6 record and an 8.87 ERA over that stretch.
I still believe that 90% of Carmona’s problems are mental, which makes this all the more troubling. What do you do when a pitcher can’t keep his head straight for the duration of a game? When your anemic offense actually manages to score four early runs for you, as the team “ace,” you need to find a way to get the W. I think there may be a conditioning aspect to this situation as well. I hate to be critical on things of that nature (I personally love donuts and like to avoid exercising whenever possible), but Carmona looks heavier lately. When I saw him pitch against the Tigers last week, he looked thicker around the middle and was starting to develop a second chin. Carmona was criticized by the Indians for showing up to spring training overweight in 2008 and 2009. I’ve heard fewer rumbles about his conditioning lately, but unless my eyes (or television) are playing tricks on me, his physique looks different so far this season.
It begs the question – what do you do with Carmona at this point? The Indians sent him off to the desert in June of 2009 for going 2-6 with a 7.42 ERA and he’s currently not far from that mark at this point (4-9 with a 6.17 ERA). I’m not sure if there’s necessarily a problem as far as raw ability goes; with the exception of a somewhat shaky first inning he plowed through the Rockies lineup until the fifth inning. Once he falls apart though, he does so spectacularly. (I do feel that I should point out that he struck out zero Rockies tonight; it’s the only game this year that he didn’t strike out at least one batter.) I’m sure that management feels that it will do no good to pull him from the starting rotation, at least from a psychological standpoint. Carmona appears to have lost faith in himself; I’m sure that it won’t help to know that the team has lost faith as well. On the other hand, I can’t see how you can continue to put him on the mound every fifth day; Carmona’s outings aren’t just “bad” anymore – they’re spectacularly bad. The Indians have managed to stay in contention through the month of June, despite a serious slump in the past few weeks. They have a legitimate chance to contend throughout the remainder of the 2011 season, but not if they’re sacrificing 1-2 wins a week by letting Carmona remain in the rotation.
I’ve always felt a soft spot for Carmona, primarily because I’m grateful to him for his role in one of the greatest games I’ve ever seen. I also have a ton of respect for his ability; when it’s working properly, his sinker is just nasty. It’s time for me to stop being an apologist for his poor performances, and it’s time for the Indians to get realistic and pull him from the rotation.