By now, you’ve heard all about the rotation woes of the Cleveland Indians. Finding themselves just six wins away from an AL Central title, the Indians have been taking on some devastating injuries to what many see as their key to winning a World Series.
First, Danny Salazar was shelved with a right flexor strain, ending his regular season and putting his status for the playoffs up in the air. Then, Carlos Carrasco went two pitches into his start this past Saturday before taking a line drive off his hand and breaking a bone near his pinky finger, officially ending his year.
Once boasting one of the best rotations in baseball, Cleveland is now down to Corey Kluber, an inconsistent Trevor Bauer and a whole lot of question marks. Many have deemed the Tribe’s postseason run a failure already as a result, something the players obviously (and loudly) disagree with. Still, you can’t deny these have been some rough blows to a team many predicted would at the very least win the AL.
With only a few series left in the year, the Indians have to figure out just how exactly they’re going to handle starting pitching come playoff time. Kluber is contending for another Cy Young, but Bauer has proven tough to rely on. Meanwhile, rookie Mike Clevinger hasn’t gone too far into games yet, making it difficult to pin too many hopes on him.
As bleak as it all seems, some saving grace may have arrived in the form of a starter who had very recently looked like a lost cause. Josh Tomlin, fresh off getting demoted from the rotation, appears to be returning to form. If this is indeed the case, it would be a gigantic boost for Cleveland.
Surprisingly, Tomlin was actually one of the Tribe’s best pitchers all the way up to the All-Star break. Many didn’t even think he’d get a spot in the rotation to begin with, much less make an impact. Yet, come the midway point of the season, Tomlin was 9-2 with a 3.51 ERA.
His out-of-nowhere ascension into becoming one of the most reliable arms on the staff helped the Indians nab first place in the division, a spot they’ve held since June. However, after the All Star break, Tomlin’s struggles played a part in Cleveland’s grip on first loosening a bit.
After going back and forth between strong starts and shaky ones, the 31-year-old hit a monumental slump. He lost five straight starts, only making it through the fifth inning once. Though he’s always susceptible to giving up a home run, Tomlin was now spoon-feeding them to opposing teams left and right.
While manager Terry Francona gave his veteran pitcher as many chances as he could to right the ship, eventually he had to yank him from the rotation.
After Salazar went down, though, the Indians needed someone to step in. Tomlin was reinserted, and fans held their collective breath when he took the mound last week against the Chicago White Sox. However, instead of getting shelled again, he put forth a surprisingly solid appearance. The same occurred last night when he threw 6.2 innings of one-run ball against the Kansas City Royals.
Two solid starts is no indication Tomlin is officially out of his funk. That said, with the postseason looming, what Cleveland is getting from him right now is huge.
At the moment, the team is planning on a playoff rotation of Kluber, Bauer and a bunch of shrugs. Clevinger may get a start, or the team may try and go through another one of its bullpen games. Obviously, it’s a pretty risky situation.
If Tomlin can prove reliable, it gives the Indians some breathing room. It allows them to feel comfortable with the idea of penciling him in as their third starter.
Don’t get me wrong – I’d still be nervous about Tomlin on the mound in the playoffs. He’s always going to be vulnerable to giving up home runs, and if they come in bunches, the team will find itself in one heck of a hole.
That said, if he pitches like he has the past two starts, as well as how he performed for the first half of the season, it would help Cleveland in a major way. He still has two more starts scheduled before the end of the season, and if he continues to look better, it’ll add some relief for a team which needs a lot of it when it comes to pitching.