Is Confidence Enough for Tomlin to Restart in 2014?

The Cleveland Indians open the 2014 season with new expectations despite many questions. The Indians’ 25-man roster will look different than the group that won 92 games and lost the American League Wild Card game to the Tampa Bay Rays. While the roster may change and the expectations grow, Cleveland will need answer many questions this spring before opening the season in Oakland on March 31. Today, we look at one of the Indians’ players who is in need of a bounce back season after a poor 2013.

Josh Tomlin has been through a lot.

The right-handed pitcher suffered from a lackluster 2012 season, came to a halt in August 2012 when Tomlin had to undergo often career-ending Tommy John surgery. He was out for nearly the entire 2013 season recovering from the procedure, and managed to throw a number of rehab outings despite his opportunity to appear in only one Major League game toward the end of the season. This season, Tomlin has already lost his arbitration battle with the Indians, asking for $975,000 and receiving the Indians’ desired $800,000 salary instead.

But you know what they say about bad luck – it has to run out at some point. A string of bad things only means that a good thing happening is just around the corner – right?

For Tomlin, a once dominant and promising member of the Tribe’s starting rotation, the hope is there that this season will be his comeback season, his chance to reestablish himself into the Tribe’s rotation.

Currently, the Indians’ starting pitching rotation appears to be shaping up to include Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister, and Danny Salazar. The fifth spot in the rotation is up for grabs and could go to, among others, one of Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, or Tomlin.

There are concerns related to Bauer’s command and maturity on the mound. Command is also a concern for Carrasco, and it seems that his arm may be better suited for a bullpen spot. This means that Tomlin could have a higher chance of acting as the Tribe’s fifth starter.

However, Tomlin cannot be named to that list merely because there are concerns with others in consideration for a starting role. Pitching coach Mickey Callaway hinted at the Lake County Captains’ Hot Stove Dinner that Bauer’s command has much improved throughout the off-season, meaning that if this promise continues into spring training, there is a chance Bauer could be able to redeem himself as a pitching prospect for the Tribe. And, these names aside, there is always the chance that a young pitcher may wow the team during spring training and find himself being named to the starting rotation. Tomlin cannot coast through spring training on the hopes that other pitching options are not ready for the role.

Luckily, Tomlin is not a guy to assume a role is his simply because he earned it in the past. He is a hard worker, a player dedicated to proving not only to the organization, but also to himself, that he is ready to regularly return to the Major League roster.

Before his surgery, Tomlin was one of the more promising pitchers on the team. He made his Major League debut in 2010 after spending the beginning of the season in Triple-A Columbus, going 6-4 with a 4.56 ERA. Tomlin went 12-7 during his first – and only – full season in the bigs in 2011, posting a 4.25 ERA in 26 games. He threw 89 strikeouts and held batters to a .248 average. 2012 was not as good to Tomlin, as he went 5-8 and posted 6.36 in 21 games before his season came to an abrupt halt when it was found that he required Tommy John.

Now, Tomlin is doing all that he can to prove that he is ready to return to his old form and help Cleveland continue their successes of last season.

In the two innings that Tomlin pitched in the bigs in 2013, he gave up two hits but allowed no runs, giving him a flawless record for his (very) brief return to the game. His minor appearances were also impressive and showed potential in his abilities post-surgery. Tomlin pitched for Akron, Lake County, and Columbus in 2013, along with rehab outings in the Arizona League. He earned two wins in Columbus with a 2.40 ERA. He gave up a total of five runs in all his minor league appearances last season.

More so than just his numbers demonstrating his potential post-surgery, Tomlin’s attitude is that of a player ready to return his prior form. Following his rehab appearances in Lake County, Tomlin said that he was ready to return to the big league club in whatever capacity they needed him, whether it was as a starter or out of the bullpen. He said his goal was to help the team bring a championship to Cleveland.

“We’re not going to rush the process by any means,” Tomlin said last season of returning to the Major League stage. “But if I feel good, and there’s a need, then I’m definitely ready to go.”

Tomlin also said that the way he was throwing in his minor league outings felt as though it could be translated to the majors. Despite not knowing “how your stuff is going to play out up there,” Tomlin said he was confident that his pitching prowess had not waned: “I feel healthy enough that I could go out there.”

Health is going to be the main concern for Tomlin this season. The potential and ability is there, but the question will remain if Tomlin can maintain that form through a more lengthy series of innings. Tommy John surgery does not readily lend itself to a pitcher returning to his stamina of old. If he wants to return to a starting role, Tomlin will need to prove during Spring Training that his ability to go deep into games has not been lost; he will have to prove that he will not resort to throwing behind his current capacities in order to save his health.

Tomlin said it best himself last season – his role with the Tribe is going to be dictated by what happens each time he throws. He knows this, and is hopefully ready to show the organization that he is gearing up for a 2014 bounceback season in new health, as his poor 2013 was not so much a result of poor playing as it was unforeseen injury circumstances. Should his health not cooperate with his goals, however, it is hard to say what could be in store for Tomlin down the road – except to say that it is a road he likely would not want to travel.

“Every time you go to the mound, you go out there and you throw the ball, 12 pitches, eight pitches, 25 pitches, it’s one step closer,” Tomlin said during his 2013 rehab appearances. “It’s one step closer every time you go to the mound and come off of it healthy. That’s me and the main goal at this point.”

Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer

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