CLEVELAND -- Call it the curious case of Fausto Carmona. Over the past month, the imposing sinkerballer has devolved from the Indians' confident Opening Day starter to a troublesome conundrum within Cleveland's rotation.
On Monday night, Carmona turned in an enigmatic performance as perplexing as the pitcher's body of work this season. Following an opening act in which he looked every bit an ace, Carmona unraveled and sent the Tribe reeling to an 8-7 Interleague loss at the hands of the Rockies.
"He just dug his own grave, basically," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "He lost his focus. I can't say anything but that."
Cleveland's bullpen was strong, and the club's offense enjoyed the type of showing it had been missing for much of the past six weeks, but that combination was not enough to undo the early damage caused by Carmona. As a result, Cleveland slipped to its first loss of the year to an opponent from the Senior Circuit.
Carmona surrendered seven runs on the evening and was unable to escape a messy fifth inning. In that fateful frame, the right-hander yielded six runs -- all with two outs -- in the latest within a string of forgettable starts. Over his last eight outings, Carmona has gone 1-6 with an 8.87 ERA.
It has been enough to leave Tribe fans pounding the panic button.
Acta, who has supported and defended Carmona all season long, continued to voice patience as the proper path for handling the situation. The Indians (39-32) remain atop the American League Central standings and have no plans of removing Carmona from his role on the starting staff.
"This guy threw 210 innings for us last year -- good ones," Acta said. "It's not as easy as it looks. This is not fantasy baseball. You can't just get rid of him and bring somebody else over here. He's one of our guys. He's got good stuff.
"We just have to continue to work with him and throw him out there every five days."
Carmona (4-9, 6.17 ERA) cruised through 4 2/3 innings against the Rockies (36-36) before running into a wall. In the fifth, he issued a two-out walk to Colorado's ninth hitter, Chris Iannetta, before loading the bases. Todd Helton then drew a bases-loaded walk to force home a run.
The next hitter, Troy Tulowitzki, sent a pitch bouncing off third base for a two-run double. Veteran slugger Jason Giambi followed that by crushing a 3-1 pitch from Carmona deep to center field for a three-run homer. That blast capped off a six-run outpouring and put the Indians behind, 7-4.
"That inning killed him. I thought he was going to roll," Indians catcher Lou Marson said. "It was frustrating. You get those first two guys out on five pitches -- two quick outs -- and then a two-out walk and everything broke loose."
It was enough to erase the effort of Cleveland's offense.
Travis Hafner launched a three-run homer off Colorado's Juan Nicasio in the first inning. Carlos Santana added a solo shot in the fourth. One inning later, Shin-Soo Choo delivered a two-run single with the bases loaded. All of their collective contributions went for naught.
"He just buried himself there," Acta said of Carmona's showing in the fifth.
Thanks to a costly throwing error by Marson in the eighth inning, the Rockies were able to tack on an integral insurance run. Tribe rookie Cord Phelps trimmed Colorado's lead to 8-7 in the home half of the frame, but was promptly thrown out trying to advance to second base on his single.
That brought an abrupt halt to the inning.
"He said that he got him in the arm, that he was right on top of the plate," said Acta, when asked the explanation given to him by second-base umpire Sam Holbrook. "Obviously, he had it wrong. He missed the call."
For the second time this season, Carmona chose to speak to reporters through an interpreter. Translating for the pitcher was Julio Rangel, the Indians' mental skills coordinator.
"It happened so fast," Carmona said. "I was trying to get out of the inning and make pitches, but things didn't work out the way I wanted."
Rangel was one of the instructors given credit for Carmona's turnaround midway through the 2009 season. That year -- two seasons removed from a 19-win showing that earned him a fourth-place finish in AL Cy Young voting -- the righty struggled mightily and was optioned all the way down to Rookie ball.
Carmona retooled his mechanics, focused on getting into a better mental state, and worked his way back up the organizational ladder. Even if they wanted to, the Indians could not take a similar route this time around. Carmona has no Minor League options left for the club to use.
After his latest outing, Carmona insisted he was not battling the same type of focus problems that came up during his turbulent '09 tour.
"I don't feel like I did in 2009," Carmona said. "Talking about the fundamental side, I feel fine. I'm working. I'm doing stuff. I'm making pitches. I'm not getting the results I want, but I don't feel like I felt in 2009."
Acta agreed, and was quick to mention the stretch from April 7-May 8 earlier this season, during which Carmona fashioned a 2.22 ERA.
"We know it's not the same as two years ago," Acta said. "He put together seven good starts earlier in the year. He's just been inconsistent. His last start was good. This was not very good."
Carmona's biggest issue has been letting innings get out of control.
Consider that Carmona has allowed 38 of his earned runs in only 10 of his 96 1/3 innings. Across the other 86 1/3 frames, he has allowed just 28 runs, which equates to a 2.92 ERA over that sample.
Against the Rockies, Acta cited a lapse in concentration on Carmona's part. The manager was not sure that has been the issue all along.
"The ability to make a pitch when it counts just hasn't been there," Acta said. "I don't know if I can attribute that to a lack of focus. In this case, you've got two outs. ... You do have to smell blood and get after those guys and get out of that inning."