Covering the Bases: March 9

TomlinFinal: Indians 4, Brewers 2

FIRST: If former Indians manager Manny Acta would’ve seen Josh Tomlin’s performance on Sunday afternoon, we all know what he would have said to reporters:

“I couldn’t be any prouder of my little cowboy.”

Acta famously (at least for us scribes) uttered that quote on April 20, 2012. Tomlin isn’t a big fan of the nickname (“Why couldn’t he have just said ‘cowboy?'” he once asked), but hey, what the right-hander has accomplished is something to take pride in.

It’s certainly not lost on the pitcher.

“I feel pretty blessed to be in this situation right now, competing for that spot,” Tomlin said on Sunday. “The main thing I take out of these outings right now is how I feel the next day and how I feel in the outing. So far, so good.”

Feeling good is such a positive for Tomlin, because he missed most of last season while coming back from Tommy John surgery. That operation is becoming fairly standard, but missing a year can set a pitcher back not just in terms of healthy, but positioning on a staff. Once a lock in the rotation, Tomlin is now fighting for the only job available.

In his latest effort, Tomlin spun four shutout innings and ended with five strikeouts and one walk — a first-inning free pass to Jonathan Lucroy that snapped Cleveland’s 20-inning streak with no walks.

“I’ve got to cut down on those,” quipped Tomlin, who had zero walks in 29 1/3 innings between the Majors and Minors last year.

Tomlin — up against Carlos Carrasco, Aaron Harang and Trevor Bauer — for the lone vacancy in the rotation — said he was pleased with his curveball. He was able to throw it for a strike and use it as a swing-and-miss pitch. After the outing, Indians manager Terry Francona sounded nearly as proud of Tomlin as Acta was two years ago.

“I thought he pitched as advertised and how he needs to pitch,” Francona said. “He threw strikes. He kept the ball down. He holds runners. He, basically, doesn’t beat himself. I think the more he gets removed from Tommy John, the more you see him feeling good about himself and attacking the zone. His future is really bright.”

On the spring, Tomlin has allowed two runs on eight hits with nine strikeouts and two walks in nine innings.

SECOND: Say what you will about the fact that it’s only Spring Training, but the Indians have been extremely sharp on the mound to this point. Toss aside the fact that Cleveland is 9-1-1 (with no losses in 10 games), because wins and losses don’t matter. What does matter is getting ahead, showing strong command and putting batters away. The Indians have done that consistently so far this spring.

With Sunday’s win, Cleveland improved its Spring Training-leading ERA to 2.70. The Indians have a 1.08 WHIP and an opponents’ slash line of .209/.268/.327. The team’s strikeout-to-walk ration currently sits at 3.33 (100-to-30).

Francona, pitching coach Mickey Callaway and bullpen coach Kevin Cash preach strike one, and throwing strikes in even-count situations. That’s why there are leaderboards just inside the clubhouse doors for first-pitch strikes and 1-1 strikes for Cleveland pitchers during Cactus League play. It’s a way to motivate and stress importance at the same time.

“You know what? We were actually talking in the dugout,” Francona said. “Normally in the spring, you let guys pitch out of innings just because they need their work. Guys have come in and thrown strikes. They really haven’t had a big inning. Saying that, it’ll happen tomorrow. You know it. But, staff wide, they’ve done a really good job of working ahead and all the things you’re looking for.”

THIRD: The Indians have reached the point in camp when the it’s time to not only build up the pitchers, but give the regular hitters more and more at-bats. On Sunday, shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera and outfielder David Murphy appeared in their second straight game. Murphy went 0-for-4 as the DH and Cabrera went 2-for-2 with one walk. More and more everyday guys will get consecutive games in soon.

Francona gave Cabrera a day in the leadoff spot to get him his at-bats as quickly as possible.

“That was just to get him at-bats,” explained the manager. “He was playing back to back and I wanted t get him that third at-bat without having him stand out there. I think playing two days in a row, same with Murph, was good for both of them. You’ll see that with select guys in the next week or so. They’ll play back to back games.

HOME: That’s where I will be going Monday morning. I’m flying back to Cleveland to spend time with Mrs. MLB and my two kiddos for the next week. The Tribe beat will go on, with MLB.com’s Doug Miller and Joey Nowak pinch-hitting for me over the next seven days. Indians.com will be in good hands, especially because Miller is a big Pearl Jam fan and Nowak is a fellow Spartan. Those qualities are essential for my replacements. Keep checking Indians.com and give those two a follow on Twitter for Tribe coverage while I’m away. Apologies in advance for the blog being dormant in my absence.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

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