Tomlin’s First Start Gives Hope to Back of Rotation

On Tuesday afternoon, July 5, 2012 and July 27, 2012 were very important dates for Cleveland Indians pitcher Josh Tomlin. By late Tuesday evening, those dates no longer held as much meaning.

The first of the two days in the life of Tomlin stood as the last time the Tribe hurler had won a game. That latter had been the last time he took the mound as a Major League starter. Suffering from a sore right elbow, Tomlin would have Tommy John surgery in August of that year.

It was a long road back, but Tomlin made both 2012 dates a lot less meaningful on Tuesday night. The right-hander took the hill as the starter for Cleveland. He took no time in notching his first victory in almost two years, earning the win in as good a game as could be expected for a guy who had not pitched more than two innings of a big league game in such a long time.

Tomlin did appear for two innings as a reliever last September. However, he was nowhere near ready to resume his old starting duties at that point. The pair of frames, nonetheless, were scoreless. More impressive, the six and two-thirds scoreless stanzas he threw against the Twins were even more stunning. He allowed four hits and walked one batter on his way to proving that he has rebounded from the procedure that took away nearly two seasons from the 29-year-old.

More important than showing he could handle being in the starters role again, Tomlin may actually be able to help settle what has been a shaky back end of the Cleveland starting rotation.

To this point, Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco have worked out of the No. 4 and 5 spots in the order. Neither have done very well. The pair has combined to go 1-6 with an ERA over 6.00. With Cleveland’s top three starters Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber and Zach McAllister getting off to slow starts – the second two have rebounded over the past couple weeks – the struggles of the starting five’s back end was all the more magnified. It’s a big reason the Indians, a 2013 wild card team, is below .500 as the season nears its quarter pole.

The leash on Salazar is longer as he had an excellent rookie showing in 2013. Carrasco, who has never been able to fulfill his promise at the Major League level, was moved to the bullpen a little over a week ago. Needing a new No. 5 starter in time for Tuesday’s game, the Indians turned to the veteran Tomlin over Trevor Bauer, who has pitched exceedingly well for Triple-A Columbus this year.

By all accounts, the decision to hand the ball to Tomlin was the correct one. The Indians want to give Bauer a little more seasoning. Despite showing, to this point in the season, the stuff that made him the No. 3 overall pick of the 2011 draft, Cleveland wants to be careful with Bauer. Considered by many a future ace, the Tribe would like to be certain Bauer is ready to pitch and pitch well in the majors for good when he is finally promoted.

As for Tomlin, himself, he pitched well enough in spring training to earn strong consideration to break camp with the Indians. However, the decision to take Carrasco to Cleveland was likely made to give Tomlin a little more time to come back from his injury. It was a good call as going to Triple-A was kind of like an extended spring training and he was not rushed into the lime light following the elbow ligament surgery.

With the Clippers, Tomlin opened eyes in his five starts. He was 2-1, with a 2.06 ERA. An even better sign was that Tomlin was clearly getting stronger as he went along. He had tossed 20 consecutive scoreless innings at the time of his promotion to the Indians.

Granted, there is a pocket of fans who will likely say throwing against minor leaguers and a Twins ball club not necessarily known for its hitting prowess is not quite enough proof that Tomlin is back to being a starter the Tribe can count on.

To an extent, those detractors may be correct. Those are not tests the likes of which Tomlin will face when he sees teams like the Tigers, Yankees or Red Sox. Still, he has passed all the tests that have stood before him with flying colors. That is more than can be said for the previous occupant of the final spot in Cleveland’s rotation.

Tomlin still has more to prove as he continues his come back from Tommy John surgery. Tuesday’s impressive showing has certainly granted him the opportunity to continue the comeback trail in Cleveland. He is unlikely to shut out opponents, or come close to that, every time he pitches. However, for the moment Tomlin has given some hope to a back of the pitching order that sorely needed it.

No longer can a team look at its schedule and take for granted a win when they see the last couple spots of the Tribe’s rotation will be taking the mound. Tomlin, who pitched well in the majors prior to 2012, gives the rotation more credibility. His first start in almost two years was big for him on a personal level. It was also big to give a waning fan base hope that this season of promise may not be sunk by a starting five that is much stronger now than it was two weeks ago.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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