A year ago, Indians fans were busy discussing if the team had enough rotation depth to find their fourth and fifth starters. Heck, even their third man was up for debate. Corey Kluber and Carlos Carrasco had strong 2014 seasons, but Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer remained question marks for the team. Carrasco hadn’t even had a full strong season, instead emerging in the second half of 2014 as a dominant starter after having spent time in the bullpen and AAA. Kluber was, arguably, the only starter in whom the team could place extreme confidence.
What a difference a year can make.
This past season, the Indians emerged as having one of the best starting rotations in all of baseball. Kluber, Carrasco, Salazar and Bauer cemented themselves as a dominant, fearful starting four. The big question now, however, pertains to the last spot in the rotation – the fifth man.
The Indians jumped around throughout the season, experimenting with pitchers from the minors who could possibly fill the fifth man spot, or pitchers from the bullpen who could be used as starters. The fifth man role was not solidified at the start of the season, and names such as Shaun Marcum, Bruce Chen, Toru Murata, T.J. House and Zach McAllister made appearances on the mound to start games. It was a rotating spot for much of the season, without anyone really stepping up and delivering what the team needed. House had shown promise in the previous season, but injury set him back this year and he found much of his time during the season spent in either AAA or rehabbing.
Luckily, the Indians found themselves graced with two rewarding starters as the season moved on. Cody Anderson and Josh Tomlin emerged from the mix as the Tribe’s two strongest candidates for the fifth starter role, and the Indians knew it.
Anderson, who made his MLB debut this year, started as perhaps one of the most impressive rookies in a while. He was lights out in his first four starts, pitching into at least the seventh inning in those starts. He appeared a little shaky in the middle of his season, but rebounded with a strong end to the year. He posted a 7-3 record and 3.05 ERA while striking out 44 batters. At 25, Anderson’s future is noticeably bright with the Tribe.
Tomlin, though, amazed Cleveland in his return to the mound this season. Once one of the strongest pitchers on the team, he has suffered in recent history from Tommy John surgery and the subsequent rehab necessary to get back to his former self. This season, Tomlin made his first big league start of the season on August 15. Despite losing that first game, Tomlin gave up only five hits and allowed only two runs to score. He ended the season with a 3.02 ERA and 57 strikeouts.
Which leads to the big question – have the Indians found their fifth man?
Have they – heaven forbid – found two?
Anderson and Tomlin are both viable candidates for the fifth man job based on their 2015 showings. While a six man rotation may sound good in theory, with each pitcher getting more time to rest between their starts, it probably won’t be the reality next season. With his injury, it’s likely that House will spend a bit more time rehabbing and appearing either in AAA or even out of the bullpen moving into next season, depending on his performance level during Spring Training. This leaves the fifth man job to either Anderson or Tomlin.
Tomlin probably has more versatility than Anderson and, as such, could probably stand to appear out of the bullpen but also be the first one to call on should anything happen to the rotation. Anderson, being younger and a more consistent starter thus far, probably has the best chance for success being in the rotation right from the start.
Being young, Anderson may have some lackluster seasons ahead of him and his performance level may not always be at the top of the charts. However, he has more time to iron out those struggles than an older pitcher such as Tomlin.
For the first time in what seems like forever, the Indians are poised to have a dominant pitching rotation from day one. There have been question marks in seasons past but it almost looks like the answer has been found, even bordering on an embarrassment of riches for the Tribe as they tout Anderson and Tomlin as potential starting options. Anderson, however, will likely easily come out on top, and could very well be the solution to the Indians’ fifth man woes.
Photo: Hannah Foslien/Getty Images