CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – The Cleveland Indians overcame another rough start by Josh Tomlin, coming from behind to beat the Minnesota Twins at Progressive Field, 5-4.
Here are my takeaways from Tuesday’s game. Follow me on Twitter (@TJZuppe) for more baseball analysis and insight.
1. WE GOT YOU
After Josh Tomlin gave his club the shortest outing of his career (more on his struggles in a bit), it was up to the Indians’ bullpen to pick up the slack and carry their team over the final seven innings of Tuesday’s ballgame. And luckily for Cleveland, they were up for the task.
Shawn Armstrong, Dan Otero, Zach McAllister, Bryan Shaw and Andrew Miller combined to record the final 7 1/3 shutout innings, yielding just three hits and three walks, striking out six to calm the waters for the Indians.
Their effort provided just enough time for Rajai Davis to club a game-tying three-run homer off Andrew Albers in the second inning and Francisco Lindor to knock in the go-ahead run in the bottom of the fourth.
The valuable middle innings filled by Otero and McAllister were especially crucial, bridging the gap to the seventh frame, when Shaw gave Cleveland 1 1/3 innings and Miller picked up the final five outs of the victory, recording his 12th save of the season.
Of course, that’s nothing new for Otero, who continues to give the Indians big outs in the middle of games. The righty provided 2 2/3 scoreless frames with three punchouts on Tuesday. Otero lowered his season ERA to 1.71, the second-lowest among relievers with at least 50 innings pitched in the American League this season.
2. NICE MOVES
Manager Terry Francona probably described Zach McAllister’s sixth-inning kick save play better than anyone: “I don’t know if that caught him or he caught it, but I tell you what, man, I guarantee you if you ask him, he’ll say he’ll take it.”
With one out in the inning, Twins catcher Kurt Suzuki stepped into the box to face McAllister. The right-handed hitter scorched one back up the middle, and the Tribe’s hurler instinctively kicked his left leg back in an attempt to knock it down.
But he didn’t knock it down. In fact, he knocked it up in the air. And with some sense of his surroundings and the play at hand, McAllister spun around to snag the floating ball in his glove to record the out.
“That was just reaction,” McAllister said. “There’s nothing more than that. It’s a ball coming back at you and hopefully you either stop it and make the play, or it goes through the middle and it’s probably a base hit. It just worked in my favor tonight.”
Perhaps the most entertaining part of the incredible play was his teammates reactions to the improbable grab. Just as McAllister caught the pop up, second baseman Jason Kipnis thrust his arms in the air in a moment of celebration.
“It was great,” Otero said. “I thought Kipnis’ reaction in the background was the best, I think he just threw his hands up in the air. I think he’s been practicing hacky sack with [Mike] Clevinger before the games. So I think we can thank Clev for that one, too.”
As for the aftermath, McAllister’s left leg was a little swollen and red after the game in the locker room. But he was certainly willing to trade a welt for the highlight reel play.
When we write nice things about Josh Tomlin being a great teammate and an easy guy to root for, those aren’t just fluff things said to get on his better side. They’re echoed by everyone because it’s true. And that was on full display when he helped Michael Brantley, who recently underwent surgery on his right biceps, put on his belt for Tuesday’s afternoon team photo session.
So, when Tomlin continues to struggle and be perplexed as to why, it’s not a surprise to anyone that he’s willing to hold himself accountable in ways that others maybe would not.
But there’s no other way to put it: The righty has been absolutely brutal this month. Tomlin owns an 11.48 ERA over his last six starts this month, and things seemed to hit rock bottom on Tuesday night.
The righty was greeted by a leadoff homer by Brian Dozier on the game’s first pitch, and he wasn’t able to successfully escape the second inning, giving up four total runs on seven hits in 1 2/3 frames.
He’s given up 10 homers in the month of August, most of them of the knockout blow variety (two 2-run, three 3-run, one grand slam), and at the center of it all, Tomlin, who was tremendous over the season’s first four months, is perplexed by what is happening.
“It’s very confusing for me,” Tomlin said. “I went back and looked back at a lot of stuff. I don’t see a trend. I don’t see a trend anywhere. The stuff is not ticking down at all. I feel like it’s actually a little better now than it was earlier in the year. My cutter is harder, which I went back and looked at it to see if it was flatter. Maybe it was just kind of chasing barrels a little bit, but it’s not really doing that.
“Then, after the All-Star break early on, it was about executing pitches out of the stretch. I wasn’t executing pitches, and now I am. They’re just putting good at-bats on them, putting the barrel on it and they’re finding holes. It’s definitely a tough stretch and it’s frustrating, but I can’t hang my head down. I’ve got to come back tomorrow and get back to work and try to figure this thing out and get better.”
When Tomlin struggles, it doesn’t just impact the day that he pitches. If you take Tuesday, for instance, his short outing forced the bullpen into duty for over seven innings of work. That could potentially impact Wednesday’s series finale against the Minnesota Twins, as Cleveland attempts the sweep.
And the righty knows that he can’t keep putting his club in a hole and expect his teammates to pick him up. At some point, he’s got to get to the bottom of his struggles or risk forcing his team to make a difficult decision. But if the Indians do opt to skip Tomlin — or remove him from the rotation all together — he understands why.
“I don’t know how I could be disappointed about that,” Tomlin said. “I don’t. Whatever moves [Francona] makes, I understand. It’s not like I’m going out there and throwing eight shutout every time right now. I’m struggling, and I know I’m struggling. I take full ownership of that. It’s my fault. I don’t know what I’m doing, but I’m anxious and ready to get back here tomorrow to try to figure it out. That’s the only thing I can do. Not dwell on it by no means.”
The Indians do have an off day on Thursday, which could enable them to make some adjustments in the rotation if they choose, but Francona wasn’t in a hurry to make any final decisions minutes after Tuesday’s game.
“We’ll sit down and go through it a little bit and see if bumping him back a couple days or whatever [is the answer],” Francona said. “We’ll get it figured out.”
It’s easy to get caught up in Tomlin’s most recent outings. And it’s understandable. The righty has been unreliable for an entire month. But it’s also important to not completely lose sight of the production he provided over the first fourth months of the campaign.
Through the end of July, Tomlin gave the Indians a 3.48 ERA over 19 starts and was legitimately in the conversation to represent Cleveland at the 2016 All-Star Game after a tremendous first half.
Since then, things have certainly spiraled out of control, but it’s also fair to say the Indians wouldn’t own the lead they currently enjoy over Detroit (4.5 games) without the contributions of Tomlin over the first fourth months.
When Corey Kluber was working out some early season issues, Carlos Carrasco was on the disabled list, Trevor Bauer was in the bullpen and the team was juggling Cody Anderson and Mike Clevinger in the fifth spot, it was Tomlin providing the steady, reliable effort every five days for Cleveland.
He regularly gave the Indians a chance to win every time he took the mound, and without that production at a key time, who knows how different this season might look for the Tribe.
Of course, a change might be necessary now. Tomlin’s performance is dictating that in a lot of ways. And it’s not a decision the Indians will make lightly. But to dismiss the veteran starter’s contributions in 2016 because of how things have unfolded over the past month is irresponsible and off base.