As a rookie reliever last season, Fausto Carmona was a disaster. As a starter in 2007, he’s emerging as an ace.
The Indians (30-17) came to Detroit trailing the Tigers (29-19) by one-half game, but have already assured themselves of leaving with the division lead regardless of Sunday’s outcome. Wins in the first two games of this series, including a 6-3 victory Saturday, have given Cleveland a 1 1/2-game edge.
C.C. Sabathia tied for the league lead with his seventh win of the season Saturday. But while Sabathia may be the Indians’ acknowledged ace, Carmona (5-1, 2.77 ERA) has emerged as their most effective starter in recent weeks.
Used primarily as a reliever in 2006, Carmona compiled a 1-10 record and 5.42 ERA, and had a disastrous stint as closer from July 31-Aug. 5 when he blew three straight save opportunities.
This season, though, the 23-year-old right-hander has been outstanding in the rotation. Carmona lost his season debut to the Chicago White Sox, but in seven starts since April 19 he is 5-0 with a 1.94 ERA.
“He’s a young pitcher doing a great job for us,” Indians manager Eric Wedge told the team’s official Web site. “I love the way he controls the ballgame with his rhythm and tempo.”
Carmona posted his seventh straight quality start Tuesday at Kansas City, giving up three runs and nine hits over six innings, but did not record a decision in the 4-3 defeat.
He earned his only victory last season in a start at Detroit on April 15, 2006, when he limited the Tigers to one run in six innings to win his major league debut. That was one of only three wins in 10 games at Comerica Park for the Indians last year, a total they can match in just their third meeting this season.
As they seek to avoid their first three-game losing streak since April 18-21, the Tigers hand the ball to Mike Maroth (3-1, 4.94), who has enjoyed great success versus Cleveland.
Maroth is 8-3 with a 2.71 ERA - his lowest against any AL opponent - in 12 career starts against the Indians. The left-hander has been even better in his last seven outings against Cleveland since Sept, 20, 2004, going 6-1 with a 1.39 ERA and a .199 opponent batting average.
Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner is just 3-for-21 lifetime versus Maroth with no extra-base hits.
On Tuesday, Maroth suffered his only loss of 2007 as he gave up a season-high six runs - five earned - and seven hits, including three homers, in seven innings of a 6-3 loss to the Los Angeles Angels.
Detroit may be without second baseman Placido Polanco. Polanco, who is batting .326, left Saturday’s game with a muscle spasm in his oblique after doubling and scoring in the sixth inning. Although manager Jim Leyland said he doubted his second baseman could play Sunday, Polanco thought otherwise.
“When they held me at third base, I felt something in my ribs, but it wasn’t a big deal,” he said. “But when I slid at home plate, I was out of breath for a while and I couldn’t talk or breathe. But it’s nothing major or nothing bad.”