“A mind with a heart of its own”
The perk of a hot start (if it can really be called a perk… and come to think of it, I don’t think it can) is that your schedule begins to get rearranged for the benefit of ESPN. So it is with the Indians’ game Sunday in San Francisco, which was bumped to an 8:05 p.m. ET start to accommodate the Worldwide Leader.
A little national attention never hurt anybody, but the potential pitfall, where the Indians are concerned, is that Fausto Carmona happens to be starting Sunday’s game against the Giants, thereby giving a bigger audience the chance to watch the Tribe’s biggest enigma in action.
These statistics are yanked from the always excellent DiaTribe blog, headed up by my friend and fellow Bombshell Blonde backer Paul Cousineau, but they are simply so stunning that I can’t resist passing them along here:
Carmona this season with the bases empty: .623 OPS against in 248 plate appearances
Carmona with runners on: 1.057 OPS in 176 plate appearances.
Wait, it gets worse. As Paul notes, seven of the 12 times Carmona has faced a hitter with the bases loaded this season, he’s given up a hit, and four of those seven hits have been doubles.
Look, I have no doubt that there are certain mechanical issues at play here that can potentially provide more separation between Carmona’s fastball and changeup and, therefore, lead to more success against <i>all</i> hitters, regardless of whether anybody is on base. But the company line (one articulated well in Jordan Bastian’s latest Inbox) that Carmona is not the mental mess he was two years ago looks, to me, to be wishful thinking.
Fact is, this guy has demonstrated countless times since his 2006 debut that he is a meltdown waiting to happen when things go wrong on the mound. The supreme focus he showed amidst the swarm of midges (or the “midgets,” if you’re the Akron Beacon Journal… but that’s another story for another time) in Game 2 of the 2007 ALDS and at various points last year, looks more and more like the exception rather than the rule.
The Indians already took the bold step of sending Carmona to the lowest of the low Minors two years ago this month. They are bereft of such an option this time around. Carmona, as you know, is out of Minor League options, and, for all his faults, would undoubtedly get claimed if the Indians tried to sneak him through. Show me a former 19-game winner who has fallen on hard times, and I’ll show you a pitching coach who believes he can fix him.
In light of that contractual quirk, Paul Hoynes of the Plain Dealer wrote the other day that the Indians are considering moving Fausto to the bullpen if he doesn’t get straightened out in his next few starts. Manny Acta immediately dismissed the report, but, in fairness, Hoynes’ piece had noted that Acta was firmly in Fausto’s corner. It could very well be that such an idea is gaining traction in the minds of the front office brass. If so, who could blame them? It is getting increasingly difficult to take the Indians seriously as a contender when their supposed “ace” is getting bruised this badly.
Of course, a move to the ‘pen would only help Carmona inasmuch as it would remove him from the glare of the starting five and allow him to work on those aforementioned mechanical and mental issues behind the scenes. As the above numbers indicate, this is not a guy who can be trusted in tight situations, so it would appear doubtful that moving him to the ‘pen would provide much of a boost to an already able relief corps (thankfully, nobody’s talking about making Carmona a closer again).
But if this keeps up, something’s got to give… assuming, of course, that the Indians remain serious about remaining in contention (and last week’s dismissal of Jon Nunnally was certainly serious). Carmona has an 8.87 ERA in his last 44 2/3 innings over eight starts. You can’t keep running this guy out there every fifth day if you’re going to hold off the Tigers, White Sox and (new to the party) the Twins in what has become a legitimate four-team race as we reach the midway point. Given their ample issues in the lineup, the Indians are a fragile club with little wiggle room. They need a strong effort from their starters, night in and night out.
Perhaps Carmona does, indeed, right himself in the near-term. Tim Belcher has told Acta that he’s pinpointed some delivery issues that Carmona might be able to iron out. But those numbers with runners on indicate that the Indians once again have a head case on their hands. And if Carmona doesn’t get straight soon, the Indians simply have to pursue the ‘pen possibility. Because it’s not as if they’re lacking in attractive starting options down below.
According to the Indians, there is no prescribed pecking order among these four arms at Columbus, but Zach McAllister (8-2, 2.82 ERA in 13 starts), Jeanmar Gomez (7-2, 2.30 in 11 starts), David Huff (6-2, 3.64 in 12 starts) and Scott Barnes (6-1, 3.53 in 12 outings) have all proven worthy of the radar. Gomez, of course, has been north before and shown flashes, and he and McAllister have been the most consistent arms in the Clippers’ rotation. Barnes, who came over in the Ryan Garko trade with the Giants two years ago, has a four-pitch arsenal that could play well up here, and our old pal Huff, I’m told, made some major delivery tweaks with pitching coach Ruben Niebla at the end of May that has resulted in a 3-0 record and 1.73 ERA thus far in June.
Any of those guys might be worth a look if this Carmona conundrum continues.
Carmona is making $6.1 million this season, and the Indians will have to decide at season’s end whether to pick up his $7 million option for 2012. So there are certainly major business issues at play here, too. But if the Indians are not, as Acta insists, already considering the bullpen possibility as a means to skip Carmona for at least a few starts, well, it might be time to start doing so.
I suppose we’ll know more when we see how Carmona handles Sunday’s national glare. Somebody send some midges to San Fran.
PS: Be sure to check out today’s MLB.com column on Shin-Soo Choo, who has dealt with his own share of mental issues this season.
And while you’re at it, check out my column on Jim Riggleman walking out on the Nats.