CHICAGO -- Those reports about Fausto Carmona righting his old control woes were a bit premature. But the reports about Carmona learning how to maintain his composure were accurate, and that's a big reason why the Indians beat the White Sox, 5-3, on Wednesday night at U.S. Cellular Field to get manager Manny Acta his first win in the American League. Carmona walked six batters in six innings, but he allowed just one hit and never fell victim to the big inning. And though the Tribe bats were quiet as could be over the first 12 innings of the 2010 season, they came alive in time to back Carmona up and avenge an Opening Day defeat.
Not even the bitterly cold conditions got to Carmona, who pitched in short sleeves. "I don't think about cold," he said. "I think about pitch." And that's the kind of thought process the Indians want to see from Carmona. "He's made a lot of progress," Acta said of Carmona. "Even in a game in Spring Training, [pitching coach] Tim Belcher asked him to go two more innings, and he said, 'How about one inning, and then we'll talk? One inning at a time.' ... He's showing more concentration on what he's doing out there, and we like that." Acta had a lot to like on this night, including closer Chris Perez handing him the game ball in honor of his first win. Perez, the club's de facto closer with Kerry Wood on the disabled list, followed the lead of setup men Aaron Laffey and Joe Smith and picked up the save. And don't forget the offense, which worked White Sox ace Jake Peavy for 106 pitches in just five innings, forcing Ozzie Guillen to dip into his bullpen earlier than he'd like. "I was very pleased," said Acta, who called Peavy a "tough hombre" before the game. "We put some good at-bats together against a very good pitcher. We ran his pitch count up. Those are things you want to do." What Carmona wants to do more than anything, after his abysmal 2008 and 2009 seasons, is limit the number of free passes he allows. In '08, it was 70 walks in 120 2/3 innings. In '09, it was 70 walks in 125 1/3 innings. The lack of control made Carmona a shell of his former 19-win self and prompted a demotion to Rookie ball last summer. Carmona didn't just have to work with a pitching coach. The Indians had to bring in the mental mechanics, as well. Team psychologist Charlie Maher and mental-skills coach Julio Rangel became part of the Fix Fausto campaign. In winter ball and in spring camp, Carmona looked fixed. He didn't walk anybody in four starts in the Dominican Republic in December, and he walked just two batters in 26 innings in Arizona. But when the lights came on and the game counted, Carmona lost that ability to pound the strike zone. He walked the first two White Sox batters he faced in the first, setting up a Paul Konerko sacrifice fly to deep center. "I was too quick in the first inning," Carmona said. "I needed to slow down." He said he fine-tuned his delivery as the game wore on, but the results, in terms of balls and strikes, were the same. He walked one batter in each of his remaining five innings of work, with the exception of the fifth. In the third, it cost him dearly. He walked Carlos Quentin with two outs, then gave up the only hit he allowed all night, and it was a big one. Konerko took him deep with a two-run shot to left to make it 3-0. But it's a credit to Carmona that the walks and the home run did not unravel him. If anything, the walks only made him all the more focused, as he knew he couldn't let the baserunners pile up. "The way Carmona started, I thought we were going to get something going," Guillen said. "I didn't think he would last that long early, but he turned it up a notch after they tied the game." They tied the game in the fourth, when the Tribe bats must have finally been pulled off the equipment truck after the trip north. Before the fourth, the Indians had gone 6-for-41 in his young season and had yet to reach third base. That all changed when they loaded the bases on Peavy to set up an RBI single from Michael Brantley and a two-run single from Grady Sizemore to even the score. In the seventh, Choo singled off reliever Randy Williams. And with two outs and a 3-2 count, Matt LaPorta lifted a double to center off Tony Pena to bring Choo home and give the Tribe the go-ahead. "He worked the count," Acta said of LaPorta, who was pulled for pinch-runner Andy Marte. "He made the pitcher throw the ball over the plate. If he was behind in the count, he probably would have had to chase a pitch." The Tribe bullpen took it from there, with Carmona in line for the victory. Converted starter Aaron Laffey turned in another solid outing, getting a double-play ball in the seventh and the first out of the eighth. Joe Smith came on to retire Gordon Beckham and Quentin for the final two outs in the eighth. After the Indians added an insurance run off Bobby Jenks in the top of the ninth, Perez closed it out. He walked Mark Kotsay with one out but got Alex Rios to go down swinging and A.J. Pierzynski to ground to first, with Marte making an excellent defensive play to seal it. The key, though, was Carmona not giving in to the walks. "I'm not thinking about the guys at first base," he said. "I need to make the next pitch and get the ground ball." He got the ground balls when he needed them, and the Indians got in the win column.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.