Happy pitchers’ and catchers’ reporting day! Our countdown to Opening Day at Did the Tribe Win Last Night has reached 43 as baseball springs back to life for the Tribe from Goodyear, Arizona.
Countdown to Opening Day – 43 days
The number 43 was curiously absent from Jacobs Field/Progressive Field for the majority of its existence, that is until Josh Tomlin came along and debuted on July 27, 2010, throwing seven innings of one-run, three-hit baseball in a win over the New York Yankees. For a starting pitcher, that’s how you start a Major League career.
The only other players to wear it during the new era of Tribe baseball were Chris Nabholz in the park’s inaugural season in 1994 and again in 1998, when a man with strong ties to old Cleveland Stadium, reliever Doug Jones, wore it during his return to the organization.
Tomlin has pitched for the Indians at some level since being selected in the 19th round of the 2006 draft out of Texas Tech University. It took the Texas native far from home and into the Cleveland organization, but a little over four years after being drafted, he was on the big league scene. He made 12 starts that season, going 6-4 with a 4.56 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP, and he found a role in the rotation for the following season, going 12-7 with a 4.25 ERA and a much improved 1.08 WHIP while leading all of baseball with just 1.1 walks per nine innings. Pinpoint accuracy was a strength for Tomlin early on, and he has made a career as a softer tossing right-hander because of it.
Tomlin struggled in 2012 as his walk rate doubled (to a still respectable 2.2) and the ball continued to fly out of the yard against him. He went 5-8 with a 6.36 ERA and spent five games in the bullpen, but there was a bigger issue at play as he was shut down in August with right elbow inflammation. The real issue underneath the swelling was a partial tear of the ulnar collateral ligament and Tommy John surgery followed.
Somehow, Tomlin made a rapid recovery from his UCL surgery and returned to action late in the 2013 season. He made ten appearances in the minors on his comeback trail and pitched two scoreless innings for the Indians on September 12. He started the following season in Columbus and bounced back and forth several times, but since the Tommy John surgery, he has largely made a home for himself in the Indians rotation. Right shoulder surgery cost him more than four months of his 2015 campaign (he returned to go 7-2 in ten starts with a pair of complete games, a 3.02 ERA, and a 0.84 WHIP), and a left hamstring strain sidelined him for a month last year.
After going 13-9 during the Indians’ march to October in 2016, he was a key part of the team’s success when the starting rotation was decimated by injuries late in the year. He won two starts and lost one in four postseason starting nods. He followed it up with a reliable 10-9 effort with a 4.98 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP at the back end of the team’s rotation last year and earned a relief win in his lone appearance of the playoffs against the Yankees.
Tomlin is part of what is thought to be a four-man race for the final two spots in the Indians rotation for the 2018 season, behind Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, and Trevor Bauer. He will be competing with hard-throwing but oft-injured right-hander Danny Salazar, fellow righty Mike Clevinger (coming off of a 12-6 record with a 3.11 ERA in 27 games and 21 starts in his second year in the Bigs), and left-hander Ryan Merritt, who is out of options and will be seeking some role with the club after limited use on the big league stage over the last few years.
The season could be the last for the longest tenured member of the organization (but not the parent club, however, as that title is reserved for Michael Brantley) – the 33-year-old Tomlin is in the last year of his contract with the Indians. He is set to make $3 million with a chance to eat up some innings and limit foot traffic on the bases, something that he has excelled at over the years both in regards to the free pass and the stolen base.
Other notables to wear #43 in Indians’ history (21 players in total): Cal Dorsett (the first to do so in 1940), Chuck Tanner (1959), Lee Stange (1964-66), Vicente Romo (1968-69), Juan Pizarro (1969), Milt Wilcox (1973-74), Dave LaRoche (1975), Sid Monge (1977-81), Rick Sutcliffe (1982-84), Scott Bailes (1986-89), Cliff Young (1993)
Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images