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Carmona continues to show standout form

Carmona continues to show standout form

MESA, Ariz. -- Is it too soon to get excited about Fausto Carmona? A little premature to be enthused that the 26-year-old Tribe right-hander is primed to stop being an enigma and to resume being an enemy of American League batters?

A bit early to expect a return to 2007, when Carmona rated a good chance of being the one to give the Indians some Cy Young Award cred, beating both CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee to the punch?

Not if you ask Mike Redmond, the veteran catcher in his first season with the club who has emerged as Carmona's steady hand.

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"I can't believe he was any better in '07 than he was today," Redmond said after Carmona had set up -- and remained the talk of -- the Indians' 9-2 Cactus League win over the Cubs. "Those last two innings, he took it to another level. He was phenomenal."

In becoming the Majors' first pitcher believed to have gone six innings this Spring Training, Carmona again was brilliant, blanking the Cubs on two hits while striking out two without a walk.

Not if you ask manager Manny Acta, who saw Carmona pitch "as good as it gets. "

"That was great to see -- especially against the Cubs' 'A' lineup," Acta said after Carmona had helped the Indians (12-5) remain the best of the Cactus League and of American League clubs in just about every important category. "He didn't even reach his pitch limit. That he could go six on 68 pitches tells you a lot."

Duly impressed, Cubs manager Lou Piniella called Carmona's effort "the best Spring Training start I've seen here of any of the Spring Training pitchers who've faced us."

"He made it look relatively easy," Piniella said. "Hard sinker, pitched inside, had a nice breaking ball. He made it look easy. He was impressive."

In 13 Cactus League innings, Carmona has allowed five hits and one run (for an 0.69 ERA). Most significantly, he has issued only two walks -- yet another exhibit of the pound-the-zone commandment of Acta and pitching coach Tim Belcher.

Three years ago, in his first full season as a starter, Carmona went 19-8 and posted a 3.06 ERA for the AL Central champions.

But in 2008-09, the baseball muses appeared to tell him: Not-So-Fausto. He was a combined 13-19 with twice that 2007 ERA.

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"I know I'd much rather catch him than try to hit against him," said Redmond, who was with the Twins during Carmona's headline 2007 season and is 0-for-6 lifetime against him. "[Cubs batters] weren't having a lot of fun.

"You could see him get more confidence with each inning. You could see him get stronger as the game went along."

For Carmona, the turnaround began mechanically in winter ball and has an improved chance of sticking under the care of Acta, who just happens to be a fellow Dominican.

In the Dominican Winter League, Carmona followed advice to set up opposite from his normal right side of the rubber, and immediately showed improved control from the left side.

"From that side," said Acta, for whom Carmona's revival was a major Spring Training project, "he has a better chance of hitting the glove. It works for him. He has a better opportunity of hitting both sides. He made the adjustments he needed to in winter ball, and we hoped it would carry over."

It has, spectacularly thus far, not coincidentally with Redmond his regular batterymate.

"I like throwing to him," Carmona said. "He comes out and reminds me not to overthrow, and to keep the ball down. We have good communication."

"It seems to be a comfortable situation for both of us. I like catching him," said Redmond, for whom picking out Monday's bright spots was a cinch.

They occurred the couple of times the Cubs actually managed to get someone on base against Carmona -- most notably on Alfonso Soriano's one-out double in the fifth -- without further damage.

For the 2008-09 model Carmona, trouble invariably begat a trouncing.

"I'm more proud of the fact he fell behind guys a couple of times and came back. He kept it together, and that's what we have been preaching to him all spring," Redmond said.

"When times get a little tough, he's tended to put a little pressure on himself and starts trying to do too much," Acta said.

At his best, Carmona can get by with far less than too much -- as was the case Monday, when Redmond recognized Carmona had his premier sinkers and fastballs and had him holster the slider.

"He probably threw three sliders all day," the catcher said. "He had a hard sinker and fastball, That was my plan, because if it came around to facing the lineup a third time, he'd have still another pitch to go to. If you get deep into the game, you might need that third pitch to start showing batters.

"Today, nobody could go up there to take pitches. They had to swing, because he was pounding the strike zone."

"No one is asking him for '07 -- but we need much better than '09," said Acta, who had a premonition that Spring Training could set Carmona's summer tone. "Coming off two tough years, it's important for him, mentally, to do well."

Is the Majors' lowest spring ERA well enough? No. 2 on that list, incidentally, is Indians rotation candidate Mitch Talbot at 0.79. Individual laurels fit nicely with the Indians' rank as No. 1 among the 14 AL clubs in ERA (3.38) and runs scored (126).

"It's only Spring Training, and it's baseball," said Acta, alluding specifically to Carmona's performance. "He'll have his rough outings."

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

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