By: T.J. Zuppe
Indians fans have grown to know two distinct things about pitcher Fausto Carmona; there is good Fausto, and there is bad Fausto.
With the 2011 season winding down, the Wahoo faithful have been seeing a lot more of the bad, bordering on unwatchable Fausto. His alter-ego has faded into a distant memory.
For a while, due to the question marks surrounding the rotation in 2012, it seemed cooler heads would prevail regarding Carmona’s future with the Indians. Possibly some time away from watching his frustrating style, paired with the fact that he still has youth on his side would keep the Chief Wahoo on his hat for the time being.
However, as 2011 has closed out, his option next year looks less and less appetizing.
Under his current contract, the Indians hold club options for the next three seasons. In the offseason, the Tribe could decide to keep the soon-to-be 28-year old righty at roughly seven million dollars.
After a sluggish start to this season, where he posted a 5.98 ERA in his first 16 starts, Carmona seemed to make that option a no-brainer. He settled into a grove between June 26th and August 22nd, posting an ERA of 2.62 over nine starts.
The team won five of those games.
Then the world came crumbling down around him. In the next six starts that followed, Carmona has been nothing short of abysmal. He has surrendered 29 runs in that period, in just 31 innings of work.
He also walked 13, compared to just 18 strike outs.
That includes Tuesday’s first game of a double-header with the White Sox, where he worked six innings, allowing three runs on seven hits. However, he did pitch well enough to give his team a chance at victory, as he picked up the win, in the 4-3 ballgame.
It has been that maddening nature of his outings that has plagued him his entire career with Cleveland. When he reaches a point where he begins to build on positives, he regresses into a helpless state where outs are tough to come by.
He battles through some contests, as he did Tuesday, providing hope for his next outing. Then, the Hyde to his Jekyll emerges and situations get nuclear.
“Overall, he has been up and down,” Indians manager Manny Acta said of his starter this season. “I think he’s got good enough stuff to be better than that.”
This would be easy to accept from a first or second year hurler, not so from player ready to enter his seventh season in the big leagues. It is no longer just a small trend, it is the norm.
However, his manager did note one element in his favor.
“He’s very durable,” he added. “He’s pretty consistent with taking the ball every five days.”
Even missing some time with injury this season, Carmona is nearing 400 innings over the past two seasons. His ability to be a workload monster is arguably his largest strength.
Yet, if the team truly hopes to compete with the big boys next season, relying on Carmona is becoming a tougher option for success. The club must consider moving in a different direction and finding more consistency in the back of the rotation.
To come to this conclusion, the front office must ask themselves the question; in the heat of a playoff race in September and October, do you feel comfortable with the right-handed starter on the hill? Are you willing to play a game of chance on which Fausto will appear?
At this point, it is really difficult to argue yes to either question.
When the dust settles, it is still hard to see the team moving forward without him in 2012. At seven million, with a flexible contract, odds are good the team will take the large risk on bringing him back for another go.
Largely, this will be decided by what veterans the team can chase in free agency and via trades. If the team feels good about the pitching market, cutting ties with the former ace will be easier than expected.
But it is very likely that next year’s campaign will be Carmona’s very last to prove his worth. If we see the same inconsistencies in the early stages, he will be greeted with a quick hook and shaking heads.
He cannot skate by on youth and promise any longer.