Indians Lookback: The Strange Saga of the Man Once Called Fausto Carmona
Googling the name “Fausto Carmona” is a bit of an odd experience.
The images which pop up are indeed those of the former Cleveland Indians pitcher. The same can be said for any stats shown in the results.
However, the name you’re presented is completely different than the one you searched for.
Mind you, there are no “did you mean to search” or “users also searched for” to be found in the results. You simply seek one name, and get served another.
It’s fitting, honestly, considering this accurately sums up Carmona’s time with the Tribe -- thinking you’re getting one thing, only to get another.
A failed closer. A Cy Young-caliber starter. The inconsistent ace of a shoddy rotation. Fausto Carmona’s career bounced back and forth, littered with so many twists in such a short period of time that it's still hard to keep track.
And this was before we found out that wasn’t even his real name.
As with any big leaguer, it’s crucial to make a solid first impression. What Carmona did during his 2006 debut season with the Indians could be politely called the opposite of that.
Sure, he won his first start, going 6.0 innings with four strikeouts and allowing one earned run. Said victory was also the only one he pulled off that season. He allowed a combined 14 earned runs in his next two starts before eventually being converted to a reliever.
Things seemed to settle down from there. For a minute, it seemed like Carmona had found his home in the bullpen.
So encouraged were the Indians by his performance that they thought “hey, let’s make him our closer.” In a show of good sportsmanship, Carmona was quick to inform them this wasn’t a good idea.
Taking over for the recently-traded Bob Wickman, Carmona proceeded to give up eleven earned runs in four straight appearances. This added up to four losses and three blown saves, two of which came on walk-off home runs.
To the surprise of no one, this brought a swift end to Carmona’s time as Cleveland’s closer.
Still, the Indians weren’t ready to give up on him despite his finishing the year with a 1-10 record. They shifted his role back to starting pitcher, a project he was supposed to be eased into in 2007. Said plan was scrapped when Cliff Lee suffered an abdominal strain, forcing Carmona into the opening day rotation.
Initial results from his first start -- six earned runs in 4.1 innings pitched -- were less than encouraging. With his young career already featuring plenty of inconsistency, predicting where things went from here for Carmona was a fool’s errand.
Which made what happened next both surprising and completely on-brand.
Relying on a sinker Torii Hunter famously called “practically unhittable,” Carmona went on to have the best season of his career. His ERA (3.06) was never lower. His fWAR (3.3) was never higher. His record (19-8) was never better.
Suddenly, the pitcher who couldn’t close a game to save his life was receiving Cy Young consideration. Paired with CC Sabathia at the top of the rotation, Carmona helped push the Indians to their first division win in six years, setting the stage for one of the signature moments of his career.
The night of the midges.
Matched up against Andy Pettite and the Yankees in Game 2 of the ALDS, Carmona threw a gem. He went a full nine innings, allowing just three hits and one earned run. Quite an impressive line for his first career postseason start.
More impressive was the fact he was able to maintain this line while a swarm of midges hovered around the mound.
While the tiny bugs threw off New York reliever Joba Chamberlain to the point where he blew a save without allowing a hit, Carmona was undaunted. As Cleveland first baseman Ryan Garko noted after the game, this was due to the fact he’d pitched through far worse swarms.
"I played in the Dominican Republic with [Carmona] last winter, and there were bugs ten times that size flying around that field.”
While insect hoards didn’t phase Carmona, the Boston Red Sox sure did. Cleveland’s ALCS opponent made his life a nightmare, tagging him for eleven earned runs in two starts which lasted a combined six innings.
This constant back and forth on the mound became a trend for Carmona over the next few seasons.
A strong start to the 2008 campaign was followed by a hip injury, a brutal finish and an even uglier fight with Gary Sheffield. His ERA ballooned to 6.32 the following year, and he opened the 2011 campaign with a performance for the record books, allowing ten earned runs in 3.0 innings pitched and notching the worst opening day start in MLB history.
True to form, crammed between these struggles was a bounce-back campaign in 2010, where his 3.77 ERA earned him the only All-Star nomination of his career.
Yet, this twist was nothing compared to what we all learned in January of 2012.
It was then that we were greeted with an alert which essentially said “Indians pitcher Fausto Carmona is actually Roberto Hernández.” Said alert was a lot to unpack on its own, but the story got weirder from there.
Attempting to renew his visa in the Dominican Republic, Hernández was instead arrested. Turns out his birth certificate had been doctored, and the woman who falsified it went public after not receiving payment. On top of Hernández using a different name, he was also three years older than he claimed to be.
You’d think, with a career featuring so many peaks and valleys, it’d be almost impossible for Hernández to shock anyone anymore. Obviously, a story like this proved otherwise. Not only were the Indians completely thrown off, even Hernández’s agent claimed the ordeal “took us by complete surprise.”
All involved parties did what they could to move forward from here.
After serving a suspension, Hernández returned to Cleveland’s rotation in August of 2012. He logged just three starts, losing each and allowing a combined 12 earned runs.
Attempts to make a fresh start continued to flame out for Hernández from there. Over the next three seasons, he started a combined 66 games for five different teams. He was worth just 0.1 wins above replacement in that time, eventually leaving baseball for good in 2016.
Hernández’s time with the Indians was a constant back and forth. Of his seven seasons in Cleveland, five of them ended with an ERA of 5.25 or higher. The two that he didn’t were 2007, when he finished fourth in Cy Young voting, and 2010, when he notched his lone All-Star nod.
Hernández left Indians fans with plenty to remember, some good, some bad. He gave them one of the briefest closing tenures in recent memory, as well as one of the most memorable postseason starts in team history. Some of the best performances of his career were sandwiched between seasons of subpar pitching.
Based on numbers alone, Hernández’s run with the Indians was certainly unique. Yet, when you consider he spent the bulk of it going by a completely different name, even referring to it as “unique” doesn’t do enough justice.