After Seasons of Struggle, Tomlin Ends 2015 on Top
Laurel Wilder | On 16, Oct 2015
The last few seasons have turned out to be quite an experience for Josh Tomlin.
He joined the Indians big league club in 2010 as a starter, and stayed in that role for the next three seasons. He was one of the stronger pitchers on the team, cementing himself as a mainstay in the rotation in 2011 when he went 12-7 with a 4.25 ERA. Cleveland fans began to know the Texas native as the Cowboy, and grew to expect strong performances from him on the mound.
However, Tomlin’s pitching took a bit of a turn in 2012, when he went 5-8 with a 6.36 ERA. He pitched in 21 games for the Indians that season, starting in only 16. Something wasn’t quite right, and, in August, Tomlin underwent Tommy John surgery.
The next year for Tomlin consisted of workouts and rehab stints with the Indians minor league affiliates, getting Tomlin back on the mound and giving him the opportunity to pitch again. He appeared once for the Tribe in 2013, pitching two innings and giving up two hits.
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.
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 eleven batters.
Throughout the rest of last season, Tomlin was shaky. He spent time in Columbus before reappearing in the Majors in August of 2014, though his progress stalled. He gave up 18 home runs in 2014 and started only 16 of his 25 games for the Tribe. He did not appear to be capable of consistently being the Tomlin that had pitched in 2010 and 2011, and the 2015 season started without much to be said about Tomlin’s progress.
Despite reporting to Spring Training earlier this year with 20 pounds of added muscle, Tomlin showed signs of wear during the early parts of the year. He suffered from shoulder soreness while in Goodyear and had some early March starts pushed back due to his physical limitations. It didn’t seem that 2015 was going to be the Year of the Cowboy.
Tomlin did not see Major League action this season until August, after receiving surgery for an inflammed AC joint in his right shoulder. When Cody Anderson was placed on the DL, Tomlin was called up to make the start. It didn’t seem that it would be anything more than a spot start, given Tomlin’s recent track record.
However, the result was pleasantly surprising.
Despite losing the game, Tomlin pitched into the seventh inning, striking out five batters while giving up two runs on five hits.
The success was enough to keep Tomlin in the bigs for the rest of the season. In his 10 starts for the Indians this year, Tomlin went 7-2 with a 3.02 ERA. He struck out a total of 57 batters in 65.2 innings of work (in 2011, he struck out 89 in 165.1 innings – 32 more strikeouts in 100 more innings!). Two of Tomlin’s 10 starts this season turned out to be complete games.
There’s no magic formula that can tell fans why Tomlin was able to turn it around this year. Perhaps, as happened to Carrasco last season, spending time in the bullpen helped Tomlin improve his performance in the rotation. Perhaps the AC joint surgery was exactly what he needed to get back into the swing of things. Perhaps there was a mental block that Tomlin was able to overcome to find success this season. Perhaps being arbitration eligible in 2016 played a role.
The answer isn’t black and white, but the results speak for themselves. Somehow, some way, Tomlin connected the dots and found a way to make the pieces fit together in order to end the year more than successfully.
Photo: David Maxwell/Getty Images