July 27, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA: Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Josh Tomlin (43) delivers a pitch in the first inning against the Minnesota Twins at Target Field. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Tomlin Continues to Battle Back

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Josh Tomlin a Serious Contender for Fifth Starting Spot

With only one open spot in the Indians’ starting rotation up for grabs, any number of candidates could win the job. One of those contenders is a familiar face to Indians fans. That, of course, would be none other than Josh Tomlin.

If you may recall, Tomlin was a fixture of the Indians rotation under manager Manny Acta. Over parts of three seasons, he became one of the more reliable options in the Indians rotation. And while not a dominant pitcher in the same way as Justin Masterson or even Danny Salazar, Tomlin’s success was derived mostly from his pinpoint control and ability to force batters to put the ball in play.

When he was at his best, Josh Tomlin didn’t walk anyone. With a 1.1 BB/9 during his best season, 2011, Tomlin figured to be on the verge of becoming a solid contributor to the Indians pitching staff for some time to come. Unfortunately, that would not be the case. Elbow issues would flare up during the 2012 season and it was disastrous. Tomlin saw his already low velocity fall even further. Even worse, his command of the strike zone failed him.

Almost a year and a half later and a Tommy John surgery later, Tomlin is back to doing what he does best – locating pitches. In his most recent outing, Tomlin surrendered two runs on three hits to the White Sox, but it was the way in which he did it that stood out to Terry Francona:

“Actually, [he was] really good,” Francona said. “I think the kid Abreu is going to be good. He took some real good swings and he kind of fought that one off for that double. But I thought Josh was down and crisp and I thought better than the last outing.”

That’s what’s most important during spring auditions. It isn’t always about the results necessarily; it’s a time to work on things and get ready for when the games begin to matter. For Josh Tomlin, that means finding the form that made him such a reliable starting pitcher in the first place. It also means re-learning how to relocate and command his pitches even if the new ligaments in his elbow might not necessarily be in agreement. If he does that, he stand a chance at making the final cut when the Indians break camp in a few weeks.

It also helps that Tomlin has a healthy outlook on the competiton he has been thrust into. As he explained following his outing:

“I don’t look at what they’re doing by any means,” Tomlin said. “I think you go out there and you’re competing against yourself a little bit. You go out there and compete, but you want to do better the next time out or get sharper the next time out. … I don’t really look at what Harang or Carrasco or anybody else is doing. I wish them the utmost success. They’re still your teammates.”

It also helps that Tomlin has a pretty decent fallback plan if he fails to make the starting rotation. Thanks to his repertoire and track record for throwing strikes, he could become a viable bullpen option, perhaps as the team’s long reliever. It’s a role that Tomlin could very well succeed in. After all, he typically excelled the first time through the order and then became gradually less commanding with each subsequent pass through the lineup.

Either way, the Indians have options for how to best utilize Josh Tomlin and his skill set. Whether or not it is as a starter or a reliever, he hopes to play a significant part in whatever success the team has in 2014.

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