After another solid outing on Saturday, suffice it to say that Fausto Carmona's performance thus far has been nothing short of superb, when his very public struggles as the closer from last year are taken into account.
But, when Jake Westbrook returns from the DL, where does Carmona go?
Conventional wisdom has the Indians sending down a "struggling" Jeremy Sowers to leave Carmona in the rotation, but that may be a little premature. While Sowers has not looked good in his last few starts, there isn't one thing that stands out about his pitching that throws up the obvious red flags to be rectified in Buffalo. The beguiling success that Sowers had last year that was so hard to define (low K rates, ability to get out of jams with smoke and mirrors) is just as confounding when those balls that were hit directly at fielders last year are now finding the gaps and his ability to get out of those two-out jams has seemingly vanished.
If Sowers does return to Buffalo, is he going to be able to face the type of competition he needs to face to make sure that his location and "pitching plan" are back to their 2006 levels? Which is to say, the difference between a MLB hitter and an AAA hitter is profound enough that Sowers, still missing his spots, is likely to still find success at AAA. A fastball that ends up and over the plate, instead of low and away, is going to be handled differently by a Timo Perez (who sits on a .942 OPS in AAA for the Toledo Mud Hens) than a Gary Sheffield.
Don't think that the Indians aren't aware of the immense difference between legitimate MLB players and AAAA players. The fact that they hired Baseball Prospectus' Keith Woolner, who invented VORP (a theory that measures the value of a player over an easily attainable player, or essentially a AAAA player) gives a pretty good idea that they're aware that Jeremy Sowers mowing down the Jeff Mantos of the world is quite a bit different than his performance against the Mauers and Morneaus.
A reasonable argument can be made that Sowers, because of the way that he pitches, can only fine-tune his repertoire against MLB hitters. He's a finesse lefty who relies on control and keeping batters off-balance, something that's much easier to do to a 27-year-old in his fifth season in Columbus than it is against Vlad Guerrero in Anaheim.
Sowers' success last year (remember, he had the second best ERA in the second half of the season in the AL last year, behind Santana and ahead of C.C., Erik Bedard, and Chien-Ming Wang) has earned him more than just a ticket to Buffalo after three bad outings. Perhaps it's that opponents now have tape and a more defined approach against Sowers as they've adjusted to him. Now, it's on Sowers to make the counter-adjustments that will decide if the Tom Glavine comparisons are valid or if Sowers projects more like Juan Nieves.
So, what will be done with Sowers and Carmona?
Admittedly, both will probably get three to four more starts before Jake comes off of the DL (the same injury kept Lee out for an extended period of time), so this may all sort itself out in the meantime. Sowers could continue to struggle with his command or another injury may befall the rotation (knocking firmly on wood) that allows Fausto to stay in the rotation, which he has certainly staked a claim to do. Or Sowers could recapture whatever he's been lacking from his 2006 performance and solidify the rotation even more.
With the rotation performing as well as it is, allowing Sowers to figure out what he needs to, (in Cleveland, not in Buffalo) is a luxury the Indians can afford right now. If, however, Sowers is unable to improve on his recent outings (and Carmona continues to channel his inner Brandon Webb), the Indians' hand will be forced and Sowers will find himself at Dunn Tire Park trying to resurrect the pitcher that threw two complete Shutouts in the 14 games he started last year.
For now, though, let's give Sowers some time to work out his sudden troubles. His performance in the second half of 2006 earned him at least that much.