Tomlin Needs More Than Work Ethic to Secure Rotation Spot

It’s starting rotation deja vu for Josh Tomlin this season. Last year, it came down to the wire in determining who would be named the fifth starter for the Tribe — the veteran Tomlin, who was, at that point, coming into his first full season since his Tommy John surgery, and younger Carlos Carrasco, who had his ups and downs with the Tribe in seasons previously. Carrasco received the rotation spot to start the season and, despite early and mid-season struggles, managed to emerge as one of the Tribe’s strongest starting pitchers after his bullpen stint. Tomlin had his chance to assert himself as a starter in 2014, and delivered some stellar, and some not-so-hot, performances throughout the season.

The results of 2014 were enough to essentially solidify Carrasco’s spot in the 2015 rotation, thus leaving Tomlin back where he was before: competing for a spot he may or may not receive.

Luckily for Tomlin, he is now even more fully removed from Tommy John, which makes him even more physically adept on the mound than it did last year. However, that doesn’t mean he is completely on the mend, as he was scratched from his start on March 8 due to shoulder soreness.

Tomlin already started one Cactus League game prior to his scratch, when he pitched on March 4 and went two innings against the Reds.

Tomlin’s pushed-back March 8 start is not to raise red flags, though. Francona assured the media in Goodyear that Tomlin’s scratch was a precaution to make sure nothing got any worse rather than a reaction to a serious injury. According to Francona on March 8, Tomlin possibly could have pitched through the pain with no repercussions, but the skipper preferred to be safe rather than sorry.

It’s hard to predict what exactly Tomlin is going to be capable of this season. As mentioned, last year was both impressive and depressing at times, as Tomlin vacillated in his performances. He started the season with the Columbus Clippers before arriving in an Indians uniform. His strongest showing came on June 28, 2014, against the Seattle Mariners, when Tomlin pitched a complete game and led the Indians to a 5-0 victory, striking out 11 batters and allowing only one hit, the first Indians pitcher to do so since 2003.

Unfortunately, Tomlin was also beaten up last season on the mound, and posted an overall 6-9 record and 4.76 ERA in 25 games. He started 16 of those games and pitched 104 total innings, striking out 94 batters while only walking 14. He gave up 55 earned runs.

Tomlin attributed much of his up-and-down season to the injuries he suffered in seasons past. For a pitcher coming off Tommy John, throwing deep into games would not be the expected next step, and the extent to which he stretched himself throughout the season would understandably cause his results to fluctuate.

This season, Tomlin reported to camp with about 20 pounds more muscle acquired during the offseason, which will help his power on the mound and could lead to increased performances late in games. However, increased muscle does not automatically lead to increased performance, which Tomlin still must prove he has.

Yes, being further from Tommy John is a good thing. Yes, Tomlin had glimmers of the pitcher he once was while on the mound last season. But, are those enough?

The decision on what to do with Tomlin, whether to place him in the rotation or use him out of the bullpen, as has been done in seasons before, will come down to what Tomlin can do in Arizona this spring. Tomlin does have options remaining, unlike Zach McAllister, also vying for a rotation spot. If Tomlin doesn’t make the rotation, he could start the season at Triple-A again to make room for those like McAllister in the bullpen who would otherwise be out of luck.

If one thing is guaranteed when it comes to Tomlin, though, it’s that he’s going to work as hard as he can at camp. During his Tommy John rehabilitation process, Tomlin proved himself to be a dedicated worker, constantly striving to better his physical abilities and be ready to come back to the team as soon as he possibly could; he is the definition of a dedicated team player. Unfortunately, work ethic alone does not a pitching rotation make, and Tomlin must raise the performance bar consistently in order to find himself a part of the Indians roster in any way.

Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer

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