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A Venezuelan Double Whammy

The Cleveland Indians’ 2009 playoff hopes are all but dead with the club 11.5 games out of first place in the American League Central division. The club’s pitching has been disappointing. Fausto Carmona has started 12 games and has a 7.42 ERA (5.96 FIP), while David Huff has a 6.06 ERA (4.87 FIP) in 10 appearances. Jeremy Sowers has made nine starts while posting a 5.68 ERA (4.91 FIP). The club is last in the American League (14th overall) with a 5.28 team ERA and only the Orioles’ pitching staff has allowed more hits this season.

Help is on the way for the pitching staff. And that aid is coming in the form of two breakout Venezuelan pitching stars: Hector Rondon and Jeanmar Gomez. Rondon, a right-hander, was quietly signed out of Venezuela in 2004 as an international free agent. He came to North America in 2006 and enjoyed two good, but not great, seasons in the low minors. It was in 2008 at high-A ball that Rondon broke out and people began talking about him.

He allowed 130 hits in 145 innings of work, while posting a walk rate of just 2.61 BB/9 and a strikeout rate of 9.00 K/9. His 145 strikeout total was tops in the organization. Rondon also had a 3.60 ERA and posted a FIP of 3.35.

Rondon has always shown good control as a professional pitcher and he commands his 89-94 mph fastball very well for such a young pitcher. It was the improvements on the 21-year-old’s secondary pitches that helped vault him up the prospect ladder. He began to command his plus changeup more often and he also tightened up the break on his slider.

With a good fastball, solid control and reliable secondary pitches, Rondon now has the ceiling of a No. 2 or 3 MLB starter. It shouldn’t be long before he gets his first taste of the big leagues; Rondon was promoted to triple-A yesterday.

Gomez, 20, is enjoying his breakout season in 2009. He began the year in high-A ball and posted a 2.63 ERA in four starts, while allowing just 17 hits and five walks in 24 innings of work. He also struck out 15 batters. Promoted to double-A with Rondon, Gomez has now allowed 65 hits in 70.2 innings. The right-hander has posted rates of 2.29 BB/9 and 7.39 K/9. He’s allowed just four home runs in double-A.

Prospect watchers really began to take notice of Gomez after he threw a nine-inning perfect game on May 21 of this year. The game took a bit out of him, though, as he then allowed 15 runs over his next three starts. He’s gotten back on track after allowing a total of just nine runs in five June starts.

Gomez’ stuff is not quite as sharp as Rondon’s, at this point. The younger right-hander has a low-90s fastball that tops out around 93 mph. His breaking ball is still more slurve than slider or curve, and his changeup is still developing. Gomez’ control is almost on par.

If both pitchers can continue to develop and show improvements for the rest of the 2009 season, Rondon could be ready to break camp with the big-league club in 2010, while Gomez should be ready by mid-2010. Both pitchers appear to have bright futures, which is great news for Cleveland fans.