Missing Carmona Creates Deep Fifth Starter Battle

By Christian Petrila

Dear Fausto/Roberto,

Even if you manage to get out of the Dominican Republic sometime this season, good luck earning your job back. There is already stiff competition this spring, and the fact that you aren’t there to defend your starting spot doesn’t help your cause.

Let’s make a case for you first, Fausto/Roberto/whatever we’re supposed to call you. The pitcher who finished fourth in the Cy Young voting in 2007 is long gone. Now, your ERA has been well over 5.00 in three of the four seasons since. You gave up the second-most earned runs in the American League in 2011, trailing only John Lackey. Here’s your competition.

First up is Kevin Slowey. Needless to say, last year was a struggle for him. He went 0-8 with a 6.67 ERA. However, before last season, his ERA was never over 5.00 and he never had a losing season win-loss wise. If he can regain his form from 2008 when he went 12-11 with a 3.99 ERA with 123 strikeouts, the fifth spot in the rotation is his to lose.

Next is Jeanmar Gomez. Although he’s only 24, the fact that he already has seen Major League action over two seasons is definitely helpful. Last year, he was very solid down the stretch. He went 4-1 with a 4.40 ERA in September. He finished the season with a 4.47 ERA. The biggest red flag with Gomez is that he gives up a lot of hits. In 116 career innings, he’s given up 146 hits. If the infield is as defensively inconsistent as it was last year, that spells trouble.

Zach McAllister only made four starts in 2011, but the stat line isn’t pretty. He went 0-1 with a 6.11 ERA. To magnify that ERA, he gave up 12 earned runs in 17.2 innings. There are positives, though. One can make the case that he was nervous since it was only his first big-league action. Not only that, but he did average almost a strikeout per inning. He also does a good job of limiting walks. Zack could get the spot, but it would take a very impressive spring.

Next comes the lone southpaw with Major League experience, David Huff. Despite the 2-6 record in 2011, he sported a very respectable 4.09 ERA. Most of those losses came to offensive dormancy, as was the case with many pitchers last season. Plus, the season was a good bounce-back for Huff, who wasn’t the same pitcher in 2010 after taking a line drive off the bat of Alex Rodriguez right off the noggin. If he can keep his ERA down this spring, seeing him in the Opening Day rotation wouldn’t surprise me one bit.

Finally, we have the dark horse of the bunch, Scott Barnes. Acquired by the Indians fromSan Franciscoin 2009 in the Ryan Garko trade (nostalgia, anyone?) 2011 was arguably his best season in the minors. He only made two starts for AA Akron before the Indians realized he was ready for AAA. In Columbus, he went 7-4 with a 3.68 ERA. He struck out 90 batters in 88 innings. His career numbers in the minor leagues are very promising: 31-23 with a 3.87 ERA in four seasons. I can see Barnes being the first to get the call if someone goes down.

So in the end, my early favorite for the fifth spot in the rotation is Kevin Slowey, but David Huff isn’t far behind. I think Slowey’s AL Central experience is going to be the major factor. Huff will probably be on first alert in AAA in case someone gets injured. If I’m the Indians, I’m extremely optimistic about all these options.

So you see, Fausto, you really have your work cut out for you. Plenty of competition that can keep its ERA under five.

Photo: Associated Press

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