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The enigmatic Fausto Carmona had a brilliant spring.  Throwing 26 innings, he allowed only 15 hits while striking out 12 batters.  Most importantly, he surrendered only two free passes.  Sure, those stats came in meaningless exhibition games, but ever since his stellar 2007 season, Carmona has been battling his control – and losing.  In each of the last two seasons, his walk rate has been an unsightly 5.2 BB/9 and 5.0 BB/9.  Two walks in 26 innings was enough to make fantasy owners sit up and take notice.  Maybe, just maybe, the old Carmona was making a return engagement in the Indians rotation.

So what does he do in his first start of the regular season?  He walked the first two batters he faced.  So much for putting stock in those exhibition stats.

Carmona finished the night with the Win, but never consistently found the strike zone.  He tallied six walks and just one strikeout in six innings of work.  In the process, he threw 109 pitches, only 59 of which were strikes.  As wild as he was last year, his six walks matched his season high from 2009.  The crazy thing about Carmona’s performance last night was despite the lack of command, he allowed just one hit.  

So what do we make of this?

Carmona’s saving grace is the fact he’s a ground ball pitcher.  In his Wednesday start, he faced 24 hitters and had 16 balls put in play.  Of those balls in play, 10 were on the ground.  Check his ground ball rates from the previous three years:

2007 – 72%
2008 – 74%
2009 – 66%

The ground balls can help limit the potential self-inflicted damage Carmona seems intent on causing.  One of his six walks Wednesday was erased on a double play.  Unfortunately, one of his walks came around to score on a Paul Konerko big fly. Konerko also drove in the other run Carmona surrendered on a sac fly in the first.  

While it was great Carmona allowed only one hit, I’m not sure the White Sox lineup provided him with a true test of his abilities to get batters out.  In the past, left handed hitters have given Carmona fits.  His career splits paint an ugly picture:

Career vs. RHB – .239/.325/.350
Career vs. LHB – .297/.375/.441

The White Sox are a team loaded with right-handed hitters.  Last night, they had three leftys in the lineup – Juan Pierre, A.J. Pierzynski and Mark Teahen.  Not exactly a murderer’s row.  The point to take from this is based on Carmona’s splits and ability to induce the ground ball, he should be successful against the White Sox. 

Carmona has never been a strikeout pitcher, so once he began fighting his control, his fantasy impact turned sour.  The 2009 season saw Carmona put the finishing touches on a stunning collapse.

Year ERA K/9 BB/9 BAA EqERA SNLVAR
2007 3.06 5.7 2.6 .248 3.18 6.8
2008 5.44 4.3 5.2 .271 5.85 1.4
2009 6.32 5.7 5.0 .295 6.26 -0.3

Whatever Carmona found to help tame his control this spring, the early returns say he left it behind in Arizona.  In order for Carmona to regain his successful touch, he’ll have to reign in the walks and figure out how to solve left-handed hitters.  Based on last night’s performance, the jury is still out on whether that can happen in 2010.