CLEVELAND -- Fausto Carmona had an off day to soak in his success at the big-league level. But the anticipated dose of reality came on Tuesday afternoon. With Cliff Lee set to make his return against the Blue Jays on Thursday, the Indians no longer have room for Carmona in their rotation, and they don't want to see his talent wither away in middle relief, so they have sent him to Triple-A Buffalo to remain stretched out as a starter.
"It's never an easy thing [to send down a player]," manager Eric Wedge said, "and it's even that much tougher with Fausto. But there's simply nowhere for him to go. It's not a matter of him not deserving to be here, because he does." Carmona's demotion opens the door for Ben Francisco to get his first exposure to life in the Majors. The Indians called up the speedy and versatile outfielder to provide some depth off the bench. Francisco's performance in Spring Training was one of the highlights of the Tribe's big-league camp. He hit .293 (12-for-41) with three homers and five RBIs in 21 games. With the Bisons in April, the 25-year-old Francisco, who can play all three outfield spots, has hit .299 (20-for-67) with a homer, nine RBIs and six doubles and stolen bases. He was given the call-up over fellow right-handed batter and outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, who is batting .370 (20-for-54) with two homers and six RBIs for Buffalo. When it comes to starting depth, Carmona proved the Tribe can count on that as an area of strength. If having too many quality arms for a rotation is a problem, it's a problem the Indians are happy to have over the course of a six-month season. "Starting pitching," Wedge said, "is one of the most important areas of depth in Major League Baseball. We've still got a long way to go." The Indians couldn't have asked for much more than Carmona gave them in place of Lee. When the left-handed Lee went down with a strained right abdominal muscle early in Spring Training, it appeared to be an ominous forbearer for the Tribe, but Carmona, after a shaky start against the White Sox in his '07 debut on April 13, dispelled that notion. Over his last three starts against the Yankees, Twins and Orioles, Carmona went 2-0 with a 2.05 ERA. He outdueled two-time American League Cy Young Award winner Johan Santana in the Metrodome on April 24 and held the O's to a mere run on six hits over a career-high 8 1/3 innings on Sunday at Jacobs Field. Now, Carmona will head up a Buffalo rotation that also includes hot prospect Adam Miller, owner of a 2-0 record and 2.88 ERA in four starts. The Indians could have tried to squeeze Carmona into their bullpen, but that didn't make sense to the club on two levels. For one, Carmona might not have gotten consistent work, and they also didn't believe they had anyone worthy of being sent down or released. "How do you do it? Who's going to go?" Wedge said at the notion of putting Carmona back in the 'pen, where he was strong in the setup role but historically bad in the closer's job last season. "With the way those guys [in the bullpen] have pitched and five months to go, we've got to have him ready to help from a starting standpoint." The 23-year-old Carmona, coming off an '06 season in which he went 1-10 with a 5.42 ERA in seven starts and 31 relief appearances, looked much more comfortable in his surroundings in the early going this year. He had better command of his sinking, upper-90s fastball, and he showed a better ability to repeat his delivery from pitch to pitch. "He's really done a good job with his rhythm and his tempo," Wedge said. "That helps his secondary stuff stay more consistent."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.