Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Josh Tomlin does not have a smoking fastball, akin to Danny Salazar. He does not have the overall great stuff like Carlos Carrasco. He certainly does not have a Cy Young trophy in his possession as does Corey Kluber. Tomlin is also a little too old to be considered a bright prospect a la Trevor Bauer, Cody Anderson and Mike Clevinger.
It seems, a lot of times, one of the Tribe’s longest-tenured players often gets overlooked compared to his contemporaries on the club who have made names or are starting to make names for themselves with their stellar mound work.
The thing is, when it comes to putting a pitcher on the hill, game in and game out, Tomlin may be the guy Tribe fans should feel most comfortable about. Ever since returning from arthroscopic shoulder surgery last August, Cleveland’s Little Cowboy has been a big-time model of consistency. Every time he has taken the ball he has given his squad a chance to win. That is more than can be said of his more-dazzling teammates, who have each taken their turns getting battered.
Since coming off a lengthy stay on the disabled list in 2015, Tomlin has made 13 starts – a little shy of half a season of work. He has had one bad outing, giving up five runs to the Royals last year. He has had a pair of so-so outings, in which he gave up four runs. In the other ten starts, it has been three runs or less. In nine of those contests, he surrendered two runs or less. In nine of 13 starts, Tomlin has held the opposition below two runs. A team should win every time its starting pitcher throws a gem like that. Tomlin’s record says Cleveland has been successful almost every time he has been the starting hurler. He is now 10-2 since his return. He is 3-0 this season.
This is not to nominate Tomlin for top pitching hardware like that which Kluber won two seasons ago, although Tomlin certainly has pitched like an ace and a guy who could be in a Cy Young Award discussion over his last 13 appearances.
Cleveland’s rotation is so strong that Tomlin had to fight this past spring to even be in this year’s Opening Day starting five. Despite his sterling ten-game effort of late last year, he was not a sure bet to be in the rotation. Coming off a 7-2, 3.02 ERA abbreviated season, Tomlin had duke it out this spring with Anderson and Bauer for the final two spots in the rotation.
Perhaps Tribe management was a little worried that the 31-year-old veteran had one of those flash-in-the-pan efforts upon getting back to Cleveland. Of course, if that were truly the case, the organization would not have extended him this winter for two more years that put him under team control through 2018. Obviously, they saw something in Tomlin that said he was fully back from his recent injury woes.
It is, maybe, those injuries that made Tomlin a suspect starter for several campaigns. After a promising start to his career, in which he looked like a guy who could be a rotational fixture in 2010 and ’11, the wheels fell off.
In 2012, Tomlin had a year to forget in going 5-8 with a 6.36 ERA. He was between the rotation and bullpen, starting 16 games and relieving five. The following year, it became apparent that his issues may have stemmed from elbow soreness. In 2013, Tomlin tossed all of two innings before surrendering his season to the dreaded Tommy John surgery.
Tomlin returned in 2014. However, like a number of pitchers coming off the major medical work, he struggled to get anything close to strong form. That year, he went 6-9 with a 4.76 ERA in 25 appearances, including 16 starts.
Despite taking care of the elbow issue, Tomlin still wasn’t quite right from a health standpoint. He struggled last spring and was to begin the 2015 season in Triple-A Columbus. However, he never made a start there as he was headed to shoulder surgery in the first week. The procedure wiped out his first four months. He was brought back to Cleveland in August, as injuries and ineffectiveness plagued the back of the Tribe rotation.
Since then, Tomlin has been on the ride of his career. Despite a good chunk of games, some do still wonder if this is simply a good stretch by a guy who had previously been mediocre. The worry is he will sink back to mediocrity at any point soon.
However, the alternate stance to that is Tomlin may finally be fully healthy for the first time since 2011. Remember, in 2010, as a rookie, he was 6-4 with a 4.56 ERA. The following season he was one of Cleveland’s better starters in a lost year as he went 12-7 with a 4.25 ERA. Nothing special, but Tomlin’s first two years gave hope that he could actually put things together at the big league level.
Multiple injuries derailed that hope. Now, though, his arm and shoulder are no longer ailing. The medical issues seem to be behind him as he has pitched effectively since early August. The longer he goes like this, the further buried those past issues will be.
Tomlin is also now a veteran who seems to have picked up a few solid tricks of the trade. He is not overpowering, but has pinpoint control. That style got 2014 Hall of Fame inductee Greg Maddux a long way. Granted, Tomlin is no Maddux and he is nowhere near close to entering the hallowed halls in Cooperstown any time soon, but he has become a very successful pitcher with his accuracy. He does not strike out a lot of people, but he does not walk many either. He will give up the long home run, but it rarely hurts as he hasn’t put runners on base with a base on balls prior.
The long ball is really Tomlin’s lone reason for criticism in 13 games. He has given up quite a few of them -15 to be exact, which is more than one per game. However, the damage is usually minimal due to his propensity for not allowing too many other base runners.
No, Tomlin does not have the great stuff that his teammates at the top of the Tribe rotation have. Because he is not flashy and quietly goes about his business, he does not get a lot of recognition. However, he has solidified the number four spot in the rotation and is now an important piece to the starting five. Fans should enjoy watching the Little Cowboy take the mound every time. At least they can breathe easily knowing the Indians will have good shot at coming out on top that day.
Photo: Tony Dejak/Associated Press