If you want to make a name for yourself in sports, you go toe-to-toe with the champ.
That’s just what Cleveland Indians pitcher Fausto Carmona did, going pitch-for-pitch with Cy Young winner Johan Santana, not once but twice this season and coming away with victories in both showdowns.
The young right-hander is the biggest surprise in the American League, posting a 5-1 record and an impressive 2.55 ERA which includes a complete-game shutout against Santana and the Minnesota Twins last Thursday.
"That dude is filthy," Minnesota's Torii Hunter told reporters following Thursday’s game. "We've been struggling, but even if we had been playing good, we wouldn't have beaten him. If you've never played the game, listen to me, I'm a hitter. Right-handers have no chance unless they get lucky and get a hit on a broken bat."
The 6-foot-4 hurler is building quite a buzz throughout the majors, thanks to his lethal sinker that has more eye-popping movement than a Pussy Cat Dolls concert.
"It's not normal," Hunter said of Carmona’s trademark pitch. "He's not even human. It was so scary, I thought I was hung over."
With praise piling in from the Tribe’s opponents, oddsmakers are keeping a close eye on Carmona in his upcoming starts. In his seven appearances this season, Cleveland was priced anywhere between +206 (visiting the Twins on April 24) and -154 (hosting Baltimore on April 29). They will likely carry a hefty price tag this Tuesday against the Kansas City Royals.
"We know the wise guys will be looking at him,” says Peter Korner, a lines consultant for the Sports Club. “We won't treat him as an elite pitcher, but as a solid pitcher. We will bump up the line a bit based on the stats.”
The 23-year-old almost missed the chance to shine after he was sent down to the minors early in the season, but thanks to an injury to Jake Westbrook, the Indians recalled Carmona and Cleveland backers have taken in 4.20 units during his starts.
Last season, Carmona split time as a starter after taking on the role of closer for the Tribe, an experiment that left him with a 1-10 record and an ERA above 5.00.
“A lot of 2006 can be attributed to a young pitcher not being given a chance to develop properly,” says David Malinsky of Covers Experts. “He was up and down, was a starter, closer and middle reliever, and that got to his head a bit. But when they finally gave him a chance to purely start at the end of the season he was able to relax and show his stuff.”
Malinsky notes that if you take Carmona’s last three starts from 2006 and his efforts this season, he has a solid 2.58 ERA over his last 10 games. He wrapped up his final three contests last year with one loss and two no-decisions against Minnesota, Oakland and Chicago, allowing only five earned runs in 17 innings of work.
“So far his stuff really looks that good,” Malinsky says of Carmona’s 2007 starts. “He keeps banging the bottom of the strike zone and that means a couple of great ratios that we really like to see: far more ground ball outs than fly outs, and not many walks (12 in 49.1 innings). You win baseball games pitching that way.”