All spring, Josh Tomlin looked like the leader in the clubhouse for the fifth spot in the rotation. Of the four men battling for the final slot – Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer, and Aaron Harang being the others – Tomlin pitched the best. However, there was one major obstacle working against him; Tomlin had a minor league option remaining while his main competition (Carrasco), didn’t.
Nobody will ever confuse Josh’s fastball with Carrasco’s and Carlos’s “upside” has been a tease that the Indians have been trying to harness for four years. The Indians brass gave Carrasco the job despite giving up 14 runs in 15.2 spring innings. Tomlin was sent down to Columbus.
Well, what many expected happened. Carrasco couldn’t even make it out of April before being sent to the bullpen and the Indians chose Tomlin over red-hot Trevor Bauer to take his spot in the rotation. Both have been dominant in Columbus, but it was Tomlin’s last two starts where he pitched 17 scoreless innings that helped earn him the call.
Tuesday was his turn and it lined up perfectly for when the Indians needed him. He set out to make the most of his first start in the bigs since July of 2012. Now a year and a half removed from Tommy John surgery, Tomlin was ready, and he looked like the guy we all came to know and love during the lean Manny Acta years.
“Before the game, I walked down and told him, ‘Enjoy this,”’ said Terry Francona. “He loves to compete and when we gave him the lead, he did exactly what you’re supposed to do.”
As we have been accustomed to seeing, Josh pounded the strike zone and worked quickly, carving up the Minnesota Twins into the seventh inning. He entered the frame carrying a two-hit shutout before Chris Collabello got him for a solo homer. He would leave with two outs to a standing ovation. Tomlin struck out four and walked just one on 93 pitches. The run of great Tribe starts didn’t stop with The Little Cowboy. He kept the train rolling.
“Any time you get the call to come up here, you want to do everything you can to help this team win. I definitely had some anxiety going before the game, but good anxiety. The same anxiety I’ve gotten in years past. To come out there and pitch well, pitch [deep] into the game, it was pretty special for me.”
Over the last four games, Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister, and Tomlin have allowed just three earned runs in 28.2 innings pitched. This just in – that’s pretty good. If not for a lack of offense and John Axford’s back-to-back poor outings, the Wahoos could be looking at a five-game winning streak and all kinds of momentum.
Speaking of that offense, it was more than obvious that something needed to give. They had only been able to produce five runs in their last three games – four of the five came from a dropped pop up, a sacrifice fly, and two solo homers from the now DFA’d third-string catcher (George Kottaras). They seemed intent on changing things early.
The freshly shaved Nick Swisher doubled with one out in the first and was immediately brought home on an RBI single from one of the few Indians who has produced all season, Michael Brantley. With two out and Brantley on third, the Tribe received a gift that they have been giving to others this season. David Murphy tapped a slow roller down the line at first that Collabello booted. It was literally the Bill Buckner/Mookie Wilson play.
An inning later, Lonnie Chisenhall kept his hot streak going with a leadoff single and advanced on Sam Deduno’s balk. Yan Gomes then woke up from his 2-for-14 slump with a double to the right-center gap, giving the Tribe a 3-0 lead. Then with two down and Gomes still on second, Swisher singled sharply up the middle for the Indians’ fourth run. It had to be the beard for the ice cold Swisher, who had two hits and smoked the ball his first three times up.
“The name of the game is to score early,” Brantley said. “Give the pitchers a lead so they can get a little more comfortable and even more aggressive. We need to do a better job of just continuing to put pressure on the defense and continue to put runs on the board.”
Tomlin would end up getting the win, but of course things had to get interesting thanks to more bad Tribe defense. Marc Rzcepczynski had to get an extra out in the seventh after his strikeout of Eduardo Escobar got by Gomes. In the eighth, Gomes’s eighth error on another strikeout (this time on a throw to first) had Scott Atchison needing to get four outs.
With Axford not available after pitching in the last three games, Francona turned to Bryan Shaw for the save. He retired the first two Twins and then induced a routine groundball to Asdrubal Cabrera at short which should have ended the game. Instead, Asdrubal bobbled it for an error. Naturally, the next batter Escobar, doubled in Kurt Suzuki, bringing the tying run to the plate. But there would be no Twins miracle as pinch-hitter Josmiel Pinto popped out to Cabrera to end the game.
Game three of the four game set will feature the Tribe’s Danny Salazar (1-3, 5.93 ERA) and Minnesota’s Ricky Nolasco (2-3, 5.82 ERA).
(photo via Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer)