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Tomlin’s Comeback Season as Rocky as Tribe Rotation

Tomlin’s Comeback Season as Rocky as Tribe Rotation

| On 07, Aug 2014

The Indians rotation has been a revolving door this season, from the start of the season through current games. The rotation, which started consisting of Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister, Danny Salazar, and Carlos Carrasco, has transformed into a cycle that features Kluber, Trevor Bauer… And some question marks.

Since Masterson’s trade to the St. Louis Cardinals, the Indians have been left with an even larger hole than they were used to having. The remaining rotation spots have been filled by a variety of pitchers throughout the season, which have included combinations involving of the original rotation (McAllister and Salazar), as well as newcomer T.J. House and veteran starter Josh Tomlin.

Tomlin has long been a favorite pitcher to cover. He spent most of the 2013 season sidelined and recuperating from his August 2012 Tommy John surgery. He spent time rehabbing with the Indians’ minor league affiliates, including the Lake County Captains, where he appeared determined and ready to come back to the team and reassert himself as a prominent member of the roster.

Prior to his season-ending surgery in 2012, Tomlin was a member of the Tribe’s rotation that could be counted on to deliver a strong performance on the mound. He had a 6-4 record in 2010 with a 4.56 ERA, including one complete game, and an impressive 12-7 record and 4.25 ERA in 26 games in 2011. His 2012 numbers showed that he was struggling, as he went 5-8 with a 6.36 ERA before he was out for the season.

Ready to make his triumphant return to the Major League mound in 2014, Tomlin sought to impress during Spring Training, where he went 1-1 with a 3.54 ERA. He tossed 20.1 innings, giving up eight runs (all earned) and three homers, while striking out 19 and holding opposing batters to a .250 average. He lost out on an Opening Day roster spot to Carlos Carrasco, who went 3-1 with a 5.17 ERA in 15.2 innings of work. He gave up 14R/9ER and one home run, striking out 16 and holding opponents to .338.

Carrasco quickly lost the starting job, as he went 0-3 in four starts during the regular season, accumulating a 6.95 ERA. Tomlin stepped up to the Major League stage on May 6, earning the win against the Minnesota Twins when he went 6.2 innings, giving up one home run and posting a 1.35 ERA. He walked one batter and struck out four in his first start at the big league level since 2012.

He continued to pitch decently throughout the early games of his season, amassing a 3-2 record in May with an overall 3.04 ERA. He went 2-3 and 4.30 in June, though he also had his best game of the season on June 20 in Seattle, when he pitched a complete game, one-hit shutout against the Mariners. Tomlin carried a no-hitter into the fifth innings, starting the game with 12 straight outs before giving up a single to Kyle Seager. Seager was stranded on third base, and Tomlin then retired the last 15 Mariners to end the game with a 3.78 ERA. He struck out 11 batters.

Since this flirtation with perfection, Tomlin’s progress has plateaued on the mound. He was sent down to Triple-A Columbus in July following a month of four starts that left him with an 0-2 record and a 6.45 ERA. He gave up six home runs in July.

Tuesday, August 5, was Tomlin’s first start for the Tribe since July 25. He went 4.1 innings, throwing 82 pitches, and posted a 4.75 ERA after giving up six runs (five earned) and one three-run home run. He struck out five batters and walked his eleventh batter of the year while being named the losing pitcher.

As his season has progressed, Tomlin’s progress seems to have stalled. He is a pitcher who will give up home runs, though one-run blasts would obviously be more ideal than multi-hit bombs. He has given up 17 home runs this season in 91 innings. Tomlin has only not given up home runs in two games this season – the game in Seattle and the June 7 game in Texas, in which he went 8.0 innings and earned the win with a 3.12 ERA, striking out five batters.

On the plus side, Tomlin does have a low walk count, as he walked four batters in May, five in June, one in July, and one thus far in August. Overall, he is holding opposing batters to a .274 average, which is lower than McAllister’s .283 and House’s .299, and almost identical to Bauer’s .276.

Tomlin is emerging this season as an average pitcher, and one who is plagued by dominant offenses. It’s natural that a pitcher coming off a season of injury will take a bit of time to reestablish himself to his old form, though he may never return to that point. It’s easy to say that Tomlin just needs time, though the Indians’ rotation woes do not easily allow for time to be taken.

Tomlin needs more games like his Seattle masterpiece, and more games like his seasons of old. There’s no easy solution other than figuring out where the issues are coming from and fixing them, though that is easier said than done. Mickey Callaway is a pitching coach who has helped struggling pitchers in the past, so hopefully his sage advice will come in handy once again. In the interim, the Indians will likely continue to shuffle their rotation, cycling through starters and offering solutions such as replacing Tomlin with Carrasco in the fifth inning in a move that resembles a piggyback situation. Luckily, the Indians are coming up on four off-days between August 11 and August 26, giving their pitchers time to rest, rejuvenate, and jump back in to the crazy rotation that is likely leaving more than just the fans’ heads spinning.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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