CLEVELAND -- Manny Acta wasn't there when Fausto Carmona came undone. He wasn't there when Carmona began walking more batters than he strikes out or when he got demoted all the way down to the Arizona Rookie League. So when Acta watched Carmona pitch in the Dominican Winter League last month, he was watching him with new eyes. And the Tribe's new manager said Carmona appears to be heading into 2010 with new confidence.
"This was my first time really dealing with him," Acta said. "He was very receptive when we talked down there. He understood what we're trying to accomplish and what we expect out of him. The fact that he pitched well the last two games [of 2009] and during winter ball got him in a good frame of mind." Carmona made three starts for Aguilas before the team was eliminated from the playoffs. He went 1-1 with a 2.70 ERA, allowing five runs (four earned) on 10 hits with no walks and five strikeouts in 13 1/3 innings. You might be able to guess which of those stats most intrigues the Indians. Raise your hand if you said, "No walks." "That's a big step," Acta said. "Because what really hurt him last year was the walks. That's a step in the right direction, being able to eliminate extra baserunners." Carmona had plenty of extra baserunners the past two seasons, and too many of them crossed the plate. In that two-year span, Carmona, a 19-game winner back in 2007, walked 140 and struck out 137. Along the way, he went 13-19 with a 5.89 ERA. Those aren't the kinds of numbers the Indians expected when they signed Carmona to a contract extension that guarantees him $4.9 million this year and $6.1 million next year and includes club options for $7 million in 2012, $9 million in 2013 and $12 million in 2014. The only options that concern the Indians at present are the Minor League options Carmona no longer possesses. If they're going to fix him further, they're going to have to do so at the Major League level. Carmona was vocal in his opinion that pitching winter ball would help him fine-tune his mechanics in advance of Spring Training. The Indians obliged, and Acta, for one, was impressed with the results. "Some of the adjustments that we wanted him to make when Spring Training starts, he did some of that during the winter," Acta said. "And that enabled him to pound the strike zone. That stuff's still there. That night I saw him, he was pitching up to 93 [mph] with good sink, and he threw some good sliders. It's a matter of him understanding that he needs to get more of the plate and induce more contact, rather than trying to be too fine." All you need to know about the Indians' rotation is that Carmona, for all his struggles the past two years, projects as the club's No. 2 starter at the outset of the season. Between that fact and the financial investment the Indians have made in the 26-year-old Carmona, his progress will be monitored closely this spring. "It's no lie," Acta said. "We need him, big time."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.