Sheldon Ocker

Unfortunately for Northeast Ohio fans, the biggest Indians headlines of the winter have revolved around the revelation that Fausto Carmona has been using a false identity since he was a teenager in the Dominican Republic.


This has put his availability in the Tribe’s rotation in doubt. It might take months for him to persuade the U.S. government to renew his work permit so he can return to the team.


But as Indians manager Manny Acta said Saturday when he attended a fan event at Summit Mall: “We are hoping to get him back.”


In the meantime, life goes on. Acta believes he will have a viable rotation with or without the right-hander formerly known as Fausto Carmona, the mainstays being Justin Masterson, Josh Tomlin, Ubaldo Jimenez and newly acquired Derek Lowe.


“We have our four guys,” Acta said, “and we’ve added [Kevin] Slowey. He will compete with Jeanmar Gomez, Zach McAllister and David Huff.”


Slowey is not being given a free pass into the rotation, but he certainly rates the favorite tag over the other three contenders. That might seem strange, considering that he is coming off an 0-8 season in which he posted a 6.67 earned-run average.


But there were mitigating circumstances. Slowey pitched only 14 times all year, eight of them as a starter. He missed the bulk of the season with a strained oblique and bursitis in his shoulder. At the moment, he is believed to be 100 percent healthy.


“We are looking at a guy who has had some success,” Acta said. “He’s fairly young [27], and he has had some injuries. That said, he will still compete with the other guys.”


Before his 2011 season disintegrated, Slowey was a reliable if unspectacular starter — in terms of stuff — for the Twins. From 2007 through 2010, he compiled a 39-21 record with a 4.41 ERA.


General Manager Chris Antonetti wasted little time making a deal with the Rockies for Slowey, once he determined that Carmona wouldn’t be around for a while. It might be his best move of the offseason.


Despite the lightning in Carmona’s arm, he has been a painful disappointment since his spectacular season of 2007, when he was 19-8 with a 3.06 ERA. In four years since, he has compiled a 33-48 record and 5.01 ERA.


If the Indians are trading Carmona’s track record with Slowey’s, the absence of Carmona might not be such a bad thing after all.


What about the four starters who will form the nucleus of the rotation? Masterson, Tomlin, Jimenez and Lowe combined for a 37-38 record and 4.22 ERA (with Cleveland). Jimenez did most of his pitching for Colorado, posting a 4-4 record and 5.10 after being traded to the Tribe in late July.


He was not the pitcher that Antonetti thought he was trading for and gave up two top pitching prospects to acquire. For the most part, the 98 mph fastball that lifted Jimenez above all but a few starters had disappeared. His mechanics were flawed, and he seemed tentative on the mound.


Antonetti and Acta attribute most of Jimenez’s problems to two spring-training injuries that lingered and threw him off his game. Neither injury is a factor now.


Lowe was obtained from the Braves early in the offseason. Last year, pitching at age 38, he posted a 9-17 record and 5.05 ERA; Atlanta quickly let it be known that Lowe would not be in the 2012 rotation.


For whatever reason, Antonetti rushed in to make a deal, giving up a minor leaguer and agreeing to pay $5 million of Lowe’s $15 million salary.


The GM is counting on Lowe to be a more proficient pitcher at 39 (his birthday is in June) than he was at 38. Lowe has a long history of success, but age might be catching up with him.


On the other hand, maybe his horrid September (0-5, 8.75 ERA), a month that turned his season from poor to disastrous, was only an aberration.


Without Lowe’s 2011 numbers, the Tribe’s top three starters posted a 28-21 record and 3.87 ERA. It’s not irrational to believe those numbers won’t improve this year.


Masterson pitched well enough to win 16 or more games but received pitiful run support. Last season was Tomlin’s first full big-league season, so he should get better. As it is, his 12-7 record and 4.25 ERA were noteworthy. And if injuries were Jimenez’s primary obstacle to success in 2011, there’s no reason why he can’t be a winner this year.


Sheldon Ocker can be reached at socker@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Indians blog at https://ohio.com/tribematters. Follow the Indians on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/ABJ_Indians. Follow Beacon Journal sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.