Fausto Carmona coughing up seven runs in two innings against the Twins last night was apparently the final straw for the Indians, as they dropped the struggling right-hander from the rotation and sent him to the minors this afternoon.
Rather than simply option him to Triple-A, the Indians have decided to send Carmona all the way down rookie-ball, although with the Arizona League still a couple weeks from getting underway it looks like he'll basically just be at extended spring training for a while.
Clearly the Indians feel that his struggles go beyond simply pitching poorly and extend to the erosion of his mechanics or mental state. Or maybe both. While extreme, the move is not totally without precedent. Roy Halladay and Dontrelle Willis are examples of big-name pitchers who were sent to the low minors at the peak of their struggles, with the demotion working wonders for Halladay and, so far at least, doing little for Willis.
Carmona came out of nowhere to finish fourth in the Cy Young balloting two years ago, using his power sinker to go 19-8 with a 3.06 ERA and 137/61 K/BB ratio in 215 innings. Since then he has a 6.10 ERA and 94/111 K/BB ratio in 181 innings, including an MLB-worst 41 walks in 61 frames this season. He's still working at 92-94 miles per hour and still getting tons of ground balls, but just can't throw the ball over the plate consistently (although he's not in Rick Ankiel territory).
As part of the contract extension that Carmona signed in April of last year, the Indians owe him $4.9 million next season and $6.1 million in 2011, and then have $28 million worth of team options from 2012-2014. Locking players up before they hit arbitration is a strategy that the Indians and other teams have used successfully over the years, but Carmona is looking like an example of how it can backfire.