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Carmona excels during loss


Published: Mon, March 20, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.


The Yankees blanked the Indians, 2-0.
ASSOCIATED PRESS
TAMPA, Fla. -- Fausto Carmona's stock rises every time he takes those short steps up the mound.
Cleveland's 22-year-old right-hander pitched three scoreless innings Sunday, keeping the Indians close in a 2-0 loss to the New York Yankees.
Although he didn't face any of the Yankees' best players, he overpowered some of New York's reserves and top minor leaguers.
"I think you can see the confidence growing in that young man," Indians manager Eric Wedge said of Carmona, who pitched in Double-A and Triple-A last season. "He has had an outstanding camp and he most definitely has everybody's attention."
Carmona is slated to report to Buffalo to begin the season, but the Indians have enough confidence in the Dominican that they won't waste any time bringing him up if any of their starters struggle.
Big Unit tough
With only four regulars in their lineup, the Indians were blanked for six innings by New York starter Randy Johnson, who allowed four hits and struck out nine.
"That's as good as I've seen Johnson in a long time," Wedge said.
Indians starter Jason Johnson wasn't as sharp, allowing two runs and seven hits in five innings. The right-hander walked two and struck out two.
Cleveland's best scoring chance came in the first. Jason Michaels reached on Derek Jeter's throwing error and stole second. Casey Blake followed with a single, and the Indians had runners at the corners with none out.
But as was their problem so often in 2005, the Indians couldn't come up with a clutch hit. Johnson struck out Jhonny Peralta and Victor Martinez before getting Eduardo Perez on a fly to center.
Blake went 2-for-4. Michaels, batting leadoff with Grady Sizemore back in Winter Haven, tripled in the eighth but was stranded.
Pirates 9, Blue Jays 7
BRADENTON, Fla. -- He's not yet the Oliver Perez of 2004. That doesn't mean the Pirates weren't eager to get the left-hander back in their rotation following his two-week stay with Mexico in the World Baseball Classic.
Perez, erratic with his velocity and control, gave up a two-run home run to Shea Hillenbrand while lasting two innings in his first Pirates start this spring.
The Pirates also welcomed back center fielder Chris Duffy, who sat out eight days with a concussion after being hit in the head by a Curt Schilling pitch March 11. Duffy doubled to start the Pirates' first and scored on Jose Hernandez's sacrifice fly, but struck out his next three at-bats.
Hillenbrand's homer was the only hit off Perez, who threw 36 pitches, 20 for strikes, and walked two. Perez pitched on two days' rest after being the winning pitcher in Mexico's 2-1 victory over the United States on Thursday, throwing three scoreless innings to get the decision over Roger Clemens.
Perez isn't throwing in the mid-90 mph range as he did during what looked to be a breakthrough 2004 season, when he had a 2.98 ERA and struck out 239 in his first full season as a major league starter. So far, he looks more like the inconsistent pitcher who never settled in last season, fighting with his control and mechanics all season as his ERA nearly doubled, to 5.85, and strikeouts dropped by more than half to 97.
The 7- to 8-mph falloff in velocity has created speculation Perez might not be over the shoulder soreness that bothered him last season.
Perez will pitch again Friday, when he expects to throw 60 to 75 pitches.


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