Indians demote struggling Carmona

Indians demote struggling Carmona

CHICAGO -- Dismal results have led to drastic measures for Indians right-hander Fausto Carmona.

With Travis Hafner activated from the 15-day disabled list Friday, the Indians exercised their last remaining Minor League option on Carmona, the former 19-game winner pitching in the No. 2 spot of the Tribe's rotation this season.

But Carmona isn't heading to Triple-A Columbus to get sorted out. Instead, he's going all the way down to the rookie-level Arizona Summer League for what amounts to a rebuild.

The Tribe's rotation remains in a state of flux. For now, right-hander Tomo Ohka will take Carmona's rotation spot. Ohka has made two appearances since his contract was purchased from Columbus and both came in long relief of Carmona. He has given up six runs on 11 hits in 10 innings of work.

Carmona, meanwhile, will head to the Indians Player Development Complex in Goodyear, Ariz., on Sunday to begin working with pitching coordinators Dave Miller and Steve Lyons and mental skills coordinator Julio Rangel. He's not expected to pitch in a game setting for at least a week or so.

"We didn't feel a traditional demotion was going to be the right thing for him right now," general manager Mark Shapiro said. "We want to separate him from a competitive environment in order to put him in a routine to execute from pitch to pitch and start to start."

Throughout Carmona's struggles this season -- 2-6 with a 7.42 ERA, 41 walks and 36 strikeouts in 60 2/3 innings over 12 starts -- pitching coach Carl Willis has insisted that Carmona's mechanics have looked sound in bullpen sessions. On the mound and in a game environment, however, Carmona has had an ugly habit of letting the mental side of the game affect the mechanical elements.

In short, Carmona overthrows when he gets into trouble. And trouble has been a routine part of his starts of late. The final straw came Thursday, when he was battered for seven runs on five hits with three walks, a strikeout and two home runs in an 11-3 loss to the Twins.

"He really started to put a lot of pressure on himself to get through this," Willis said. "He needs to catch his breath a little bit. As someone said, sometimes you're pounding your head against the wall, and the wall's winning. So he's got to take a different approach."

The Indians aren't the first club to take such an approach with a struggling starter. The Blue Jays did it with Roy Halladay in 2001, the Rangers did it with Edinson Volquez in '07, and the Tigers did it with Dontrelle Willis last year.

But in sitting down with Carmona at the Tribe's team hotel in Chicago on Friday morning and explaining the decision, manager Eric Wedge and Willis didn't point out those previous examples. They just calmly explained their rationale.

"No one's going to work harder than Fausto and our coaches," Wedge said. "It just hasn't worked out. But it will work out. And when he looks back at his career, this will just be a bump in the road."

How long will this bump last? That's a question that can't be answered at the moment.

The Indians aren't placing a timetable on Carmona's return.

"There's no reason to," Wedge said. "That just creates more anxiety."

All that's known is that Carmona will have to first fix his mechanics then build his arm back up to handle the rigors of starting. That's a process that will take at least a few weeks and probably longer.

Obviously, this is a major development in the career of a pitcher who, just 14 months ago, was signed to a four-year, $15 million contract extension. So Carmona, who is making $2.75 million this season, is certainly the most well-paid player in rookie ball.

Carmona's extension came in the wake of a 2007 season in which Carmona went 19-8 with a 3.06 ERA for the division-champion Indians and finished fourth in the American League Cy Young Award voting.

Last season, however, Carmona began to more closely resemble the guy who blew three save opportunities in a single, memorable week as the Tribe's closer in 2006. Carmona missed two months of the '08 season with a hip strain, and, when he was on the mound, he struggled with his control. He went 8-7 with a 5.44 ERA in 22 starts, walking more batters (70) than he struck out (58).

This year, it's been more of the same.

"We've worked on his direction and staying tall over the rubber and getting out through the catcher," Willis said. "But when you start to struggle, sometimes you go in that mode of it being a fight. And when it's a fight, you go at it with everything, and sometimes you get out of control. I think that's why his delivery broke down."

Now, he's headed to the lowest end of the professional totem pole in an attempt to put it back together again.

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