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Indians Indians Archive The B-List: 7/27
Written by Steve Buffum

Steve Buffum

Rookie Josh Tomlin’s debut could not have gone much better, and Alex Rodriguez did not hit his 600th home run.  Tomlin held the Yankees to 3 hits over 7-plus innings and showed the veteran poise Alex Rodriguez did not in failing to hit his 600th home run. The Tribe benefitted from a couple of New York errors, as well as Alex Rodriguez failing to hit his 600th home run.  Have I mentioned Alex Rodriguez’ 600th home run?  He did not hit it.

FINAL 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 R H E
Spawn (63-36) 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 0 1 5 2
Indians (42-58) 0 0 0 2 0 2 0 0 X 4 10 0

tomlinW: Tomlin (1-0)  L: Sabathia (13-4) S: C. Perez (10) 

Next year, I want to use 162 rookie starters.  Print the playoff tickets now! 

1) Life to flying things 

Josh Tomlin’s first major-league start was the stuff of dreams: after watching rookie Jeanmar Gomez throttle the Tigers last week, Tomlin pitched even better, shutting out the Yankees through seven complete innings on only two hits.  Tomlin’s lone blemish came after he was lifted following a leadoff double in the 8th: due to some amusing ineptitude, the runner eventually scored on a groundout and Tomlin’s ERA sits at 1.29 instead of Gomez’ 0.00, but Gomez did allow two (unearned) runs to Tomlin’s one.  Still, this is splitting hairs, as both rookies had sparkling debuts and give Tribe fans sugar plum fairy type visions of a dawning new era at Not Jacobs’ Field. 

Of course, it may be more of an aspartame prune. 

Look, none of this is meant to summarily dismiss Tomlin’s performance, which was uniformly excellent.  He threw 60 of his 93 pitches for strikes, and more than half of the Yankees’ hitters (14 of 23) saw a first-pitch strike.  In fact, after getting his feet under him in the first, this was actually 14 of 20 starting in the second inning.  He didn’t walk any hitters, and none of the four batters that started with a 2-0 count ended up getting a hit in that plate appearance.  According to ESPN Stats & Information (via Buster Olney), Tomlin stayed “middle” or “low” on the horizontal axis as astonishing 76 of 93 pitches: this can be expected from a guy like Fausto or Jake, but Tomlin is not a sinkerball pitcher.  What he has is very good command of his stuff, and it wouldn’t take a lot of imagination to see him develop the kind of supernatural control of a Cliff Lee.  He doesn’t throw as hard as Lee nor nearly as left-handed, but command and control can take you a long way.

I was inundated by requests to know whether “Tomlin is for real,” where by “inundated” I mean “four.”  And my kneejerk reaction is that Tomlin reminded me very much of a mid-rotation Minnesota Twin from the Radke/Baker/Blackburn/Silva school: he doesn’t strike out guys like Baker or induce ground balls like Blackburn or tear his rotator cuff like Radke or eat entire honey-baked hams like Silva, but the point remains: right-hander, not superior stuff, throws strikes, doesn’t walk anyone, irritates opponents. 

But here’s the other thing that immediately leapt to mind: I called up the GameCast of Tomlin’s outing as asked where the Yankees’ outs were.  And a scary number of them were little “x’s” located behind where I’m comfortable having the center fielder play. 

Now look: there is nothing in and of itself that prevents a flyball pitcher from being successful.  Tomlin’s 6:12 GO:FO ratio does not a priori suggest that he cannot succeed in the major leagues.  But forget the stats for a moment and look at the damned ball: if this game is in Yankee stadium, or the wind is blowing out, Tomlin might have given up 8 homers.  Okay, “eight” is an exaggeration, but the fact remains: it’s not like Tomlin was inducing weak contact or blowing people away.  He located really well, and the Yankees’ hitters elevated the ball instead of driving it.  Those things are good.  And “command” is one of the toughest skills for a young pitcher to develop: it is the lack of real command from Sowers and Huff that has made them less successful in the major leagues.  In fact, I would reasonably accept an argument that Huff’s raw “stuff” is actually better than Tomlin’s (his fastball velocity is higher, but Huff’s breaking stuff is still middling).  But Tomlin’s COMMAND and LOCATION of his stuff is so far above that of Huff (or, frankly, anyone else on the staff: the other starters do it with MOVEMENT) that he is able to hold his own. 

If you really want to know about Tomlin’s development and long-range forecasting, you’d probably be better-served by reading Tony Lastoria’s opinions on the matter.  For one thing, Tony has actually seen the guy pitch in person: I’ve seen him exactly once in a tiny computer window.  There were a couple times I saw Tomlin throw a pitch and I literally involuntarily flinched because I expected a ball to get hammered.  This rarely happened, though, and the fact that it kept not happening suggests that Tomlin’s stuff is better than I give him credit for.  Tomlin’s minor-league numbers are uniformly impressive at every level, so there’s probably something to them. 

2) Open question 

So … with Gomez going 7 innings with no earned runs … and Tomlin going 7 shutout innings … remind me why we gave David Huff thirteen starts? 

3) The times, they are a-changin’ 

Me, upon being told that Raffy Perez was coming in to relieve Josh Tomlin: “All right, good move, I feel confident about that.” 

Me, upon being told that Joe Smiff was coming in to remove Marcus Thames as a threat, then stay in to finish the inning: “All right, good move, I feel pretty good about that.” 

Raffy Perez did uncork a wild pitch, but ultimately threw 2 strikes in 4 pitches.  Smiff threw FIVE strikes in FIVE pitches (to record 2 outs).  Chris Perez threw 16 strikes in 18 pitches and will get his own heading. 

The only sentence in this section I would have believed possible two months ago was “Raffy Perez threw 2 strikes in 4 pitches.”  Even then, I would have asked if the hit was for extra bases. 

4) Adventures in Closing 

After allowing two singles to start the ninth, Chris Perez had to face three of the most dangerous hitters the Yankees have. 

Remember when I said Perez threw only two pitches out of the strike zone? 

Those two pitches came to the first two batters. 

That means that, with the tying run at the plate, against three guys capable of hitting it out, sporting OBPs of .374, .370, and .346 respectively, and the lowest SLG amongst them being .479, Perez pumped seven stright pitches through the strike zone.  He struck out Nick Swisher on four pitches, got Mark Teixeira to pop out to deep short (but not deep enough to give up a sac fly, although that would have been pretty pointless to attempt down 4-1), and got Alex Rodriguez to ground out on a wonderful slider. 

I still like Perez’ slider better than his fastball at this point, and putting the first two runners on base conjures up too many images of Really Big Bob Wickman and Lord Joedemort, but with the game on the line and three guys capable of doing real damage, Perez was tremendous. 

5) The heart of the order 

Cleveland’s 2-3-4 hitters last night each had multiple hits and scored a run.  Each of Shin-Soo Choo and Austin Kearns had an extra-base hit, and Choo got all three of his hits off the left-handed C.C. Sabathia.  Overall, the trio went 7-for-12 with 10 total bases. 

6) A secondary push 

A fourth Indian had a multi-hit night: Matt LaPorta drove in two runs with a double off the wall and a sacrifice fly, while going 2-for-3. 

After a dismal April (.538 OPS) and a desultory May (.589 OPS), LaPorta worked on his swing in the minors and has hit .315/.382/.533 since returning in late June (.915 OPS).  There are still things worth working on, like 24 strikeouts in 92 AB and a 24:10 K:BB ratio that could each be a little better, but on the other hand, power hitters strike out, and .382 OBP is .382 OBP. 

For what it’s worth, the other factors that changed along with a minor-league trip were: 

a) regular playing time (with the jettisoning of Russ Branyan) 
b) playing 1B instead of LF 

I think LaPorta is simply more comfortable at 1B, and every player prefers playing every day.  The results are encouraging, though. 

7) Hey, we had one of those! 

Sabathia’s return is no longer the event it once was, but it was nice to see that, after throwing 107 pitches through 6 innings and being down 4-0 (so the chance for a win was pretty low), Sabathia was called out to throw 16 more pitches in the 8th.  This must have made him feel right at home after all. 

(Before you object that Sabathia is past the injury nexus and is a Big Boy is a workhorse and yibbity yobbity yorp, note that I’m less concerned about an injury to Sabathia than I am wondering why you would bother taking a needless risk with your titular Ace like that.  I mean, what’s the point?) 

8) Well done 

Chris Gimenez not only saw 19 pitches in only three plate appearances thanks to a total of 8 foul balls, he also got a hit and drew a walk.  With Carlos Santana slumping, it’s nice to see that Gimenez is capable of chipping in. 

Let’s be brutally honest: I think the ship has sailed on Gimenez being a major-league starter, and probably on being even an ultra-utility guy given that he can play corner infield and outfield slots as well.  I just don’t see it.  But it’s nice to see a guy take advantage of limited opportunities and conduct himself well when he gets them, and it would be a nice story if Gimenez carves out a multi-year major-league career for himself. 

9) Stories from the Wazoo Zone 

Wes Hodges got removed from the 40-man roster to make room for Tomlin.  Hodges, a right-handed hitter with some pop, is unfortunately a Corey Smiff Class anarchist at the corner infield positions.  At one point, it was nice to believe that Hodges would be a viable alternative to Mook du Jour at third base, but that looks unlikely. 

Also unlikely, though, is that Hodges is actually going anywhere.  He’ll just get the Jeremy Sowers path back to Clumbus, and … well, put it this way: with all the teams out there looking for relief help, Jensen Lewis sailed through waivers to get assigned to Clumbus.  Jensen Lewis is about ninety grillion times more valuable than Wes Hodges.  QED. 

10) Mook du Jour Update 

Rookie middle infielder Jason Donald, struggling with his defense as he is shuttled back and forth willy, nilly, and willy-nilly, has the highest OPS of any infielder on the roster.  ANY infielder. 

More specifically, each of his three “slash stats” is higher than those of Jhonny Peralta. 

Can Donald play third?

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