It’s a well-known fact that the Tribe’s starting pitching has not lived up to expectations this season. They have had some injuries and inconsistencies in the rotation and have ranked near the bottom in ERA for their starters. To make matters worse, the hitting hasn’t been up to the expected level either, and that has resulted in a slow start for a team that was expected to run away with the AL Central this season. Staff ace, Corey Kluber, missed several starts with a bad back, and the next guy in line, Carlos Carrasco, had to leave a start early with some elbow trouble and miss his next start as well.
Then came the news on Sunday that Danny Salazar, last season’s pitching representative in the all-star game, is being relegated to bullpen duty for awhile, so he can try to work out of his funk. Everyone knew there would be a decision to be made when Kluber made his way back into the rotation because Mike Clevinger had pitched very well in his absence. Many people thought Josh Tomlin or Trevor Bauer would be banished to the bullpen because of their own poor and inconsistent starts.
One of the reasons for the Salazar move may be that he has the best stuff out of the three, and Terry Francona just thinks he is lacking some confidence in his slump. Maybe he can work on some things and get back to his form from early last season. Bauer has actually been more consistent lately giving up either two or three runs a game in over 5 innings of work while winning three of his last four starts. He even struck out 14 batters in seven innings in his last outing.
Tomlin has had a very up-and-down season as his 3-6 record and 5.79 ERA would suggest, but the Indians know what they have in Tomlin. Moving him to the bullpen is not going to change what he brings to the table. His stuff is average, and he needs to locate his pitches to be effective. He will give up an above average amount of home runs and is prone to outings where he gets knocked around on occasion, but he will also have outings where he is very effective. It seems like he is locked in for those when the team needs him most. A prime example of that was him stepping up in last season’s playoffs and pitching his best with the season on the line.
Tomlin proved his value again on Sunday with a big outing. After sweeping a series in Houston against the AL-leading Astros, we finally thought it was time for the Indians to make a run, but the opposite happened. They lost 4 of 5 to the lowly Reds and Royals, and were once again struggling to score runs. What’s worse is that the dominant bullpen finally started to show some flaws as Bryan Shaw gave up a few runs, and Cody Allen blew his first save of the year. Then Tomlin stepped up to be the stopper the Indians needed.
On Sunday, Tomlin helped the Indians avoid an embarrassing sweep at the hands of the Royals by giving up only six hits in a complete game effort. The only run he gave up was a solo homer, and he had probably his best performance of the year to date. It only took him 111 pitches to get through the game, and he was able to save the bullpen for a day. Yes, it helped that he was supported by 10 runs because the bats finally got going in that game, but he came up big just the same.
Obviously Tomlin is not the ace of the staff and does not have the best arsenal of weapons to throw at opponents, but he is still a very valuable starting pitcher. I think his performance on Sunday followed by Bauer’s performance on Tuesday reaffirmed that Francona made the right decision with the staff for the time being. We all hope that Salazar can figure things out and get back to his MVP form, but in the meantime, Clevinger, Bauer, and Tomlin need to do their part to hold down the back end of the rotation. The starting staff is going to need to step up if the Tribe wants to go on any kind of an extended winning streak.