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Carmona's first All-Star Game no minor feat

Carmona's first All-Star Game no minor feat

ANAHEIM -- Fausto Carmona has what Indians manager Manny Acta refers to as "office phobia."

So when Carmona was called into Acta's office last week, he was suspicious. He didn't know that the reason for the meeting was to be informed by Acta and pitching coach Tim Belcher that he had been selected by American League manager Joe Girardi as the Tribe's representative in the All-Star Game.

"He was in the office for the first time in I don't know how many years," Acta said. "The first thing out of his mouth was, 'What am I doing in here?'"

Truth is, some people will look at Carmona's numbers (8-7, 3.64 ERA) and wonder what he's doing in the All-Star Game.

But as far as the Indians are concerned, the 26-year-old Carmona has earned this first visit to the Midsummer Classic, which will take place at 8 p.m. ET Tuesday at Angel Stadium. You can be sure that his teammates in Anaheim feel the same way. And Carmona himself? He's just enjoying the ride.

"I'm very excited about it," Carmona said through an interpreter on Monday. "It's a great game and I know I can compete here. I just want to take in the experience."

To understand where Carmona is as a pitcher is to understand where he's come from. A year ago at this time, he was in Triple-A Columbus, a month removed from a humbling -- you could say humiliating -- demotion to the rookie-level Arizona League. Carmona, a 19-game winner who finished fourth in the AL Cy Young Award voting in 2007, had become a walk-tossing disaster, and he had to go to the game's lowest level before he could ascend to its highest point.

Back in '07, Carmona appeared primed for many an All-Star berth in his career. The Dominican Republic product had been stretched back out as a starter the previous fall, following a very brief and very ill-fated stint as the Tribe's closer.

Something clicked for Carmona in that '07 season, and what clicked was a mid-90s sinker that at times looked unhittable to the opposition. Torii Hunter, then with the Twins, remarked after one loss that he felt like he was "hungover" when trying to hit that pitch.

With that sinker in tow, Carmona didn't have to rely on much else to be No. 1(b) in a rotation that also included Cy Young winner and fellow 19-game winner CC Sabathia. According to data on Fangraphs.com, Carmona threw that pitch 77.2 percent of the time. Sure, he'd mix in some sliders and the occasional changeup. But the sinker, he knew, was his meal ticket.

The following spring, Carmona cashed in on that ticket. The Indians signed him to a four-year $15 million extension that included club options for 2012-14. He was viewed as the outgoing Sabathia's heir apparent at the front of the rotation.

Alas, one trusty pitch does not a sustained Major League career make. Carmona found that out in '08, when the movement on his sinker began to betray him, his secondary pitches lacked polish and the disappointment began to mount. Carmona went 8-7 with a 5.44 ERA in 22 starts that season, missing a couple months with a hip strain.

The mess continued into '09, when Carmona was 2-6 with a 7.42 ERA through 12 starts. Dismal results led to drastic action. Carmona headed to rookie ball.

Such a move was not without precedent. The Blue Jays had done it with Roy Halladay in 2001. And the Indians were fresh off the example set by Cliff Lee, who went from Triple-A outcast in '07 to Cy Young winner in '08.

But Carmona came back for the final two months of the '09 season and appeared still very much a work in progress. His refinement had to continue in the Dominican Winter League, where, at the urging of the since-deceased Jose Lima, he moved toward the first-base side of the rubber and immediately began to pound the strike zone more consistently.

Carmona has, for the most part, taken those winter ball results into the 2010 season.

"He has the ability to separate from the previous pitch, play and inning and stay in the moment," Indians general manager Mark Shapiro said. "When bad things happen, he has the ability to separate and distance from those things and focus on the pitch at hand. That's allowed him to stay in his delivery. His delivery has broken down in the past because of hyper-competitiveness and intensity and emotions."

For a couple of his ex-Indians teammates and fellow All-Stars, it's especially sweet to see.

"That's awesome," said Lee, who surely understands better than most what Carmona has been through. "What he went through the past couple years, he's had some struggles. It's nice when you see guys that are successful, have some struggles and find their way back to being successful again. It says a lot for his work ethic and his frame of mind, being able to shield all the negativity off and focus on what he needs to do to get back to being a great player. Here he is at the All-Star Game."

Said catcher Victor Martinez, now with the Red Sox: "I really enjoy watching Fausto pitching. I caught Fausto when he first got to the big leagues, and it was great to be behind the plate for him. ... I'm really proud of him. I'm really proud that he came back."

Carmona has had a couple clunkers, but 14 of his 18 starts have been quality and several have gone to waste, thanks to a lack of run or defensive support.

"People will look at his numbers, and they might not be very pretty," Acta said. "But baseball is not golf. It's a team effort, and he's done his part. You can't blame him [for his record]. For the first month and a half or so, if we would have played better baseball behind him or given him some run support, he might be sitting here with 11 or 12 wins."

Either way, he's sitting here as an All-Star. It's the perfect capper to a remarkable return.

"I've had a lot of ups and downs the last couple of years, but having this high is definitely a good way to keep going," Carmona said. "I really appreciate this one, especially after the year that I had last year. I appreciate it more than I would have in 2007."

Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. Anthony Castrovince contributed to this report. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

{"content":["all-star_game" ] }
{"content":["all-star_game" ] }