After a 12-start cameo in 2010, the man manager Manny Acta calls “The Little Cowboy” was a rock last season at the back end of the rotation. A bulky elbow shut him down in September, but the Indians felt they found a fourth/fifth starter gem in Tomlin. Here is what we know about him: he is a strike-thrower who doesn’t exactly light up the radar gun. Balls will be put in play against him, and he is susceptible to the home run ball. When he is on and painting, Tomlin can give you a low pitch count quality seven innings of work. But if his stuff is over the middle of the plate, he can get taken out pretty easily.
Entering last night’s series opener with the Tampa Bay Rays, Tomlin’s ERA was a whopping 5.85 in 14 appearances. That is not exactly awe inspiring stuff. If the Indians had a better option to potentially take his spot, they would have probably been looking in that direction as Tomlin has been getting lit up most of the season. However, last night, he channeled back in his inner 2011 best and pitched a gem.
For seven innings, the Texan was terrific, allowing just one run on two hits. He struck out three and didn’t walk anyone. Yes, I know the Rays offense is amongst the worst in the league, but anytime you hold any Major League team down the way Tomlin did, you have to tip your cap.
“It’s good to see him go seven and have the command he had,” Acta said. “He only worries me when he doesn’t have command and he’s walking guys because that’s not his game. Today, he pitched the way he’s capable of — not walking guys and first-pitch strikes.”
Tomlin had been frustrated with his own performance this season and understandably so. But he was the story on this night.
“The inconsistency this year for me has been the biggest disappointment. Last year, I felt like I could go out there every start and figure out a way to pitch deep into the game. That hasn’t happened as much this year. Hopefully I can pick it up from here, and hopefully this continues for the rest of the season.”
Offensively, the Indians did it with the long ball for the third consecutive game. After blasting two homers on Wednesday, they added three more to keep the power train rolling. Shin-Soo Choo started the game with his fourth leadoff homer on the season, tops on the majors, off of Rays starter Jeremy Hellickson. In the second inning, Michael Brantley added his second home run in as many days. With the Tribe clinging to a 2-1 lead in the eighth, Travis Hafner added a big solo bomb to right for a huge insurance run.
The offense just looks so much better with Pronk back in the middle of the order.
In the top of the eighth inning, Acta turned the ball over to setup man Vinnie Pestano. With one out, Elliot Johnson hit a blooper to left which dropped just fair down the line. Aaron Cunningham, in as a defensive replacement for Johnny Damon, made a great play on the ball, fired to second, and nailed Johnson for the second out. As much as I like to jab Cunningham, I have to give credit where credit is due. It was a great defensive play and one that neither Johnny Damon nor Shelley Duncan would have made. It also took the tying run off the base paths in the eighth inning with one out.
“That’s how you win games — you pitch and you catch the ball,” Acta said. “Our defense has been our strength, pretty much, along with our bullpen.”
Vinnie retired pinch hitter Hideki Matsui for the final out and after Pronk’s blast extended the Tribe lead to 3-1, it was Pure Rage time. Tribe closer Chris Perez came on for the ninth and recorded his 24th save. The 26,577 enjoyed every second of this victory in a tidy two hours and 40 minutes.
If the Indians can get six or seven quality innings out of their starters and enter the back end of the game with a lead, its lights out for the opponent. After the 3-1 win over the Rays, the Indians are now a whopping 36-1 when leading after seven innings. The only loss came on opening day.
The Tribe have now won six of eight and hopes to keep their winning ways going tonight in game two of the four game set with the Rays. They will send their ace Justin Masterson (5-7, 3,92 ERA) to the mound to face Tampa Bay righty Alex Cobb (3-5, 4.94 ERA).
(photo via Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)