Covering the Bases: Game 33

506TomlinFinal: Indians 4, Twins 2

FIRST: Indians manager Terry Francona had a message for Josh Tomlin in the moments before the pitcher took the mound at Progressive Field on Tuesday night.

“I actually walked out to him before the game,” Francona said. “I just said, ‘Hey, man, enjoy the [heck] out of this.’ He loves to compete. You can tell.”

Tomlin underwent Tommy John surgery 622 days ago. He last started a game for the Indians 648 days ago. He last won a game in the Majors 670 days ago.

Consider the comeback complete.

On Tuesday night, Tomlin was officially summoned from Triple-A Columbus and he held the Twins to one run (Chris Colabello clobbered a fastball that Tomlin quipped “wasn’t fast enough” for a solo homer in the seventh) on four hits, ending with four strikeouts and one walk for a win.

It marked Tomlin’s first win since July 5, 2012.

“It was pretty special,” Tomlin said.

His teammates agreed.

“It’s awesome,” Indians outfielder Michael Brantley said. “Anybody that goes through Tommy John, it’s not an easy task. You have to work your tail off to get back to full strength, all the maintenance you have to do along that road.

“To see him come out there and perform like he did tonight, it was awesome. It was a lift for the team. That was a big start and a big win for us tonight.”

Tomlin threw 71 percent (66-of-93) of his pitches for strikes and registered a first-pitch strike to 17 of the 24 batters he faced. He never logged more than 19 pitches in an inning, enjoyed a seven-pitch third, faced the minimum in five of the seven frames he worked and had only three three-ball counts on the night.

It was classic Cowboy.

(Former Indians manager Manny Acta famously called Tomlin the “Little Cowboy” after a particularly strong start early in the 2012 season. The nickname never really took with Tomlin, who once joked, “Why’d he have to say little?” I’ll stick with “Cowboy” for tonight.)

On the night, Tomlin threw 75 fastballs (44 four-seamers and 31 cutters, according to brooksbaseball,net) and had a 76-percent strike rate on those pitches. He averaged 90.6 mph with his four-seamer (topping out at 93 mph) and 88.6 mph with his cutter (max speed of 92.4 mph). At his peak in 2011, Tomlin was sitting around 88-90 with his heater.

“I think the velocity has kind of crept up a little bit,” Tomlin said. “But that’s really not my game, so I don’t really try to look at that. It’s definitely nice to have a little bit extra velocity, but I still have to put the ball where I want it, and mix and match and try to keep balls up the middle.”

Plenty of people (myself included) felt Tomlin should’ve opened started this season in the rotation. That said, I understood Cleveland wanting to prioritize depth early in the year. As for Tomlin, he said the stint at Triple-A, where he had a 2.06 ERA and 20 straight scoreless innings going into Tuesday’s outing, helped him continue to regain his rhythm in the wake of his elbow surgery.

“[It was good] just to get the legs underneath you again,” Tomlin said. “To be in that starting rotation down there and going every fifth day and getting six innings, seven innings, eight, nine, whatever it is, getting the feet wet, knowing what it feels like to get up and down that many times, I needed that. I definitely needed that.”

SECOND: Tomlin’s night was just a continuation of Cleveland’s recent rotation resurgence. Since the calendar flipped to May, Indians starters have gone a combined 3-0 with a 1.34 ERA, 0.92 WHIP, 4.63 strikeout-to-walk ration, 9.1 strikeouts per nine innings and 33.2 innings over five outings.

The last four starts — Justin Masterson, Corey Kluber, Zach McAllister and Tomlin — have included a combined 0.63 ERA, 0.73 WHIP, 6.2 K:BB and 9.7 K/9 in 28.2 innings.

“They’ve been throwing the ball well,” Brantley said. “Offensively, we need to keep putting pressure on them. We need to step it up and give them more runs. They’re keeping us in every game. That’s all you can ask for out of them. They’ve been doing a great job and they’re going to continue to do a great job.”

THIRD: The Indians gave Tomlin enough support on Tuesday with four early runs, but the evening’s offensive showing wasn’t without its flaws.

On the positive side, Cleveland scored four runs and went 5-for-12 in the first two innings (Cleveland had four runs in its previous 22 innings, hitting .165 (13-for-79) in that span) giving Tomlin the kind of cushion he, as a strike thrower, can really use to his advantage. On the flip side, the Indians went 1-for-19 the rest of the game at the plate, but it didn’t matter in light of how Tomlin performed.

Brantley said he feels the hitters have been putting too much pressure on themselves early on this season

“Everybody puts a little bit more pressure on one another instead of just leaning on one another,” he said. “We need to make sure that we just play as a team each and every day. We know what’s it’s going to take. We know how to win ball games in this locker room. We have to continue to play good baseball.”

HOME: The Indians went into Tuesday without the availability of setup man Cody Allen or closer John Axford due to their recent work load. No worries, Marc Rzepczynski took over for Tomlin in the seventh and retired two batters to get one out. Wait, what? He struck out Eduardo Escobar, but the batter reached first safely on a wild pitch with two outs. Scrabble then induced a flyout from Chris Herrmann to end the threat.

For the eighth inning, Francona turned to Scott Atchison, who retired four batters to get three outs. Excuse me? Believe it or not, Danny Santana struck out to open the inning, but then reached first base when — following the dropped third strike — catcher Yan Gomes made a throwing error to first. Atchison then set down the next three batters in order to escape harm.

Bryan Shaw served as the closer for a day and retired the first two hitters without incident. Shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera then booted a grounder from Kurt Suzuki, giving Cleveland a Major League-high 33 errors (in 33 games) on the season. Escobar took advantage with a run-scoring double, but that’s as far as Minnesota’s rally went.

Never in doubt.

Links:

On deck:

Twins (15-16) at Indians (14-19)
at 7:05 p.m. ET Wednesday at Progressive Field

–JB

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