A pitcher that Indians fans have come to know quite well over the years is getting set to make his return to the big league roster for the first time since the earliest part of the 2012 season. Throughout his brief, three-year career with the Tribe to date, this pitcher has posted a 23-19 record with a 4.95 ERA, 2.2 BB/9 and 4.9 k/9. Who is the mystery man in question? It is none other than Josh Tomlin.
As you may or may not recall, Tomlin had been on the 60-day disabled listed for the majority of the year after undergoing successful Tommy John surgery a little more than mid-way through the 2012 season.
At the time, Tomlin’s injury was seen as a setback for the Tribe. He had established himself as a fixture in the Tribe’s starting rotation under then manager Manny Acta, despite being 5-8 with a 6.36 ERA up to that point. In fact, Tomlin was favored so heavily by Acta that he was actually quoted as saying he would not have a starting rotation that did not include Josh Tomlin. That was quite the stance for a pitcher who lacked dominating speed on his fastball and had a propensity for giving up the long ball.
To Tomlin’s credit, he worked with what he had and for the most part her did it quote well. He was never a dominating starting pitcher. Far from it actually. But, his consistency and ability to make it into at least the sixth inning of most of his starts helped make him a somewhat valuable piece to the Cleveland Indians’ puzzle.
That was then. This is now.
Now Tomlin finds himself as the odd man out. It has been over a year since Tomlin has faced actual big league caliber talent on the mound. Manny Acta is also long gone, forcing Tomlin to begin the process of establishing trust with a manager and his coaching staff all over again.
Not to mention, the Indians starting rotation has filled out quite nicely since the last time Tomlin was being penciled in as a starter every fifth day. Justin Masterson has established himself as a legitimate #1 starter, and Ubaldo Jimenez, Scott Kazmir, and Zach McAllister have all firmly planted themselves in the rotation. Even the fifth spot, once secured by Corey Kluber, looks to belong to the young right hander, Danny Salazar, for now.
So where does Josh Tomlin fit in this equation? After a handful of outings and simulated games against lesser competition, Tomlin is set to take the next and presumably final step in his rehabilitation as he makes a start for Triple-A Columbus on Thursday. The target pitch count appears to be 75 pitches. If all goes well, expect Tomlin to make at least one more start in Columbus to stretch his arm out further and also work out any kinks.
But does that mean Tomlin has a future with the big league team as a starter? Probably not. If Josh Tomlin wants to help the Indians in 2013, it will most likely come from out of the bullpen.
As previously mentioned, the starting rotation appears to be set for the time being. However, the bullpen has been over utilized and worked into submission for most of the season. With September call ups and expanded rosters on the way, it makes sense that the Indians would enlist Tomlin’s services out of the pen, particularly in long relief situations where he can be most effective. Currently that role is being occupied by Carlos Carrasco, but following poor start after poor start it would seem likely that the Indians would prefer someone else in that role.
Tomlin brings experience against Major League hitters to the table, something that many of his minor league counterparts may not be able to boast. However, Tomlin has spent the majority of his big league career in a starter’s role. Can he make the transition to reliever, something he has only ever done five times in 59 appearances, and can he be successful? Undoubtedly, that will be the role Francona plays in all of this. He will be primarily responsible for inserting Tomlin into situations where he can succeed and best utilize his skill set. Does that mean putting Tomlin on the mound with the bases loaded against Miguel Cabrera? Absolutely not. But, bringing him in to start the fourth, fifth, or sixth with the hope of getting two to three solid innings? That’s doable.
Tomlin’s value will ultimately be derived by how effectively he can eat innings first and foremost. They don’t need him to be a specialist or a high leverage situation guy. If Josh Tomlin wants to make an impact with the Cleveland Indians in 2013 it will be by eating innings whenever a starter runs into trouble early or the occasional extra-innings affair. The burden on Tomlin’s surgically constructed right arm will be lessening the demands of the other arms in the bullpen.
It’s been a long and trying journey for Josh Tomlin. One that has seen him go from entrenched starter to battling his way back onto the 40-man roster. Nothing has ever been easy for Tomlin, though. This is just another speed bump on his road to finding long-lasting major league success. If we have learned anything from Tomlin over the course of his time with the Indians it is that he’s a fighter. He’s going to give it his all and possibly push himself further than he should to achieve success for himself and the team. Could the Indians use a little bit more of that Texas grit and determination in the clubhouse? Certainly, but only if that results on the field match the contributions off the field.