By Craig Gifford
With all the injuries, bad luck and trades that have swept through the Cleveland Indians rotation this season, there were two constants. Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin formed a top of the otation comparable to most around baseball. Masterson a true ace and Tomlin an innings eater who would keep a team in every ball game.
After that has been a run of starters who have been struggling or have limited experience.
That top of the Tribe rotation got considerably thinner last Friday with the news that Tomlin was going on the disabled list with a right elbow injury. Gone is a man who, until last Thursday, had gone 37 straight games in which he pitched at least five innings. Here now is Masterson and a whole lot of question marks.
For an Indians team whose offense has been iffy, at best, of late, it would seem Tomlin’s injury is the straw to break the camel’s back. In the last month, Jason Kipnis, Michael Brantly and Travis Hafner have been added to a DL that already included Grady Sizemore and Carlos Carrasco. Still, Tomlin’s is probably the worst.
Does this mean the Indians are done and have no shot of catching the Detroit Tigers for first place in AL Central Divison? No, it does not mean that at all. There still is hope in this rotation.
That hope starts with Masterson, who has blossomed into the ace of this pitching staff. His record is only 10-8 because of an offense that gives him little to no run support. His 2.83 ERA is the reason to be excited about the top of the rotation. Every five games, the Indians have a chance to win.
Then there are the two former aces. Fausto Carmona and Ubaldo Jimenez. Carmona entered the season as the team’s Number one starter, but fell all the way to number four following the All-Star break. That demotion seemed to inspire Carmona, who has looked like the ace of old over the last month and a half.
Jimenez, a Cy Young candidate for the Rockies the last couple years, is well-known as the Tribe’s big trade deadline acquisition. Cleveland gave up potential future star starters in Alex White and Drew Pomeranz to get what they are hoping will be a front-line starter. Jimenez looked like anything but a top-of-the-rotation guy in his first four starts. However, his last time out, Friday against Kansas City, he flashed the dominance he is capable of. He struck out 10 batters and allowed one earned run in seven innings.
Carmona and Jimenez are both capable of being aces with Masterson. Without getting carried away, let’s supposed Jimenez and Carmona come around to pitch like Number two and three starters and all of a sudden the Indians have gone from a solid top two to a solid top three in the rotation even with the loss of Tomlin.
Add number four starter David Huff who, aside from one outing, has looked like a brand new pitcher, and the Indians still have solid starting pitching even without their most consistent starter. Huff continued to dazzle Monday night with six shutout innings against Oakland.
This is where the loss of Tomlin starts to be felt. Cleveland still needs five starters. It will be rookies Jeanmar Gomez and Zach McAllister who will look to fill the void while Tomlin is out. Both have been hit hard in limited major league work, but have had enough success to think the bottom won’t completely fall out every fifth day.
While it stings a lot to lose your number two starter the world and season does not end for the Indians. With guys stepping up to pitch to their capabilities the Indians still have the promise of a rotation that can carry it through September with hope of catching Detroit and winning one of the most surprising division titles in team history.
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