CLEVELAND — Where would the Indians be without Fausto Carmona?
On the surface, they’d be without his 14 wins, which would leave them in fourth place in the Central Division, out of the race for the playoffs and talking about next season — again.
But thanks to Carmona playing a larger part than the Indians deep thinkers’ believed was possible, Cleveland is in contention — just a half-game behind the defending American League champion Tigers in the division standings.
“What Fausto has done has been about as important as anything that’s happened on our ballclub,” said Indians manager Eric Wedge of the 23-year-old right-hander, who began the season as a fill-in for injured left-hander Cliff Lee, before blossoming into one of the majors’ most effective starters.
At 14-7 with a 3.16 ERA, Carmona is tied with rotation mate C.C. Sabathia for the second-most wins in the American League, while his ERA ranks sixth among the league’s starting pitchers. Sabathia’s 3.48 ERA is eighth.
What Carmona, who was not expected to break training camp on the big league roster, produced prior to the All-Star break was a pleasant surprise the Indians could have lived with had it ended there.
But Carmona has kept it going in the second half, allowing just 10 earned runs in seven starts, striking out 38 batters in 52 innings. His 1.73 post-break ERA is the fourth-lowest in the AL.
If not for the Indians’ offensive struggles for much of the second half, the team could be talking about the prospect of its first 20-game winner since Gaylord Perry won 21 in 1974. As it stands, the milestone is still reachable for Carmona, though he publicly remains less than enamored by his achievements thus far.
“I’m not thinking about anything but doing what I’ve been doing,” Carmona said through an interpreter. “My job is to keep the team close and give the team a chance to win.”
Carmona has accomplished as much more times than not, pitching at least seven innings in 16 of his 24 starts this season. He has allowed more than three earned runs in just four of those outings. Cleveland is 15-9 in games he has started.
“He’s been incredible,” said outfielder Jason Michaels. “He’s been everything you could ask a starting pitcher to be.”
As a closer last year, Carmona was everything you would ask him not to be. He failed in the magnified role after producing sparkling results as a setup man, which makes his effort as a starter this season all the more surprising to many.
That does not include Wedge, who bristles every time the experiment with Carmona as the closer is brought up.
“(Reporters) beat the (heck) out of that, but it was one week,” Wedge said. “That kid has shown what kind of pitcher he is and he’s proven what kind of pitcher he is.
“His toughness, it’s definitely part of the package with him.”
First baseman Ryan Garko left Wednesday’s game with tightness in his groin. He is day-to-day and questionable for the opener of a three-game series at Tampa Bay tonight.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 653-0899 or firstname.lastname@example.org.