CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – It is safe to say that as Josh Tomlin’s curveball goes, as goes the pitcher himself.
Saturday was another poor start for the right-hander, who fell to his AL-leading eighth loss of the season, laboring through nine hits over 2 2/3 innings.
As a pitcher who tops out around 88 mph, Tomlin leans on his breaking pitches to keep hitters off-balance. When he cannot locate the breaking pitch, the best in his arsenal regardless, he struggles.
That was what happened in his latest outing, throwing curves on just 12 of his 54 pitches because of a lack of command. Due to the lack of usage, White Sox hitters attacked Tomlin’s sub-90s fastballs early in counts to the tune of seven of the nine hits.
“That’s the big speed differential for me to keep hitters off the fastball, and keep them kind of honest with the cutter,” Tomlin said. “That’s what I was talking to Yan about, was just the poor execution with the curve. I couldn’t really find that rhythm or find that groove with it. I’d throw a good one that would have the break you want, the shape you want, but it would end up three feet in front of the plate.”
Without the ability to use his best pitch to set up his low-velocity fastball, Tomlin also couldn’t use those fastballs to go back to the curveball. With everything going awry, any curveball that was placed well, like Jose Abreu’s 2nd inning double, would be hit hard according to the man who throws it.
“You would throw a good four-seamer up and in on a guy and get a check-swing foul ball or a swing and miss, then you try to bury a curveball and you cast it a little bit and it just floats up there,” he added. “Even if they’re not looking for that pitch or it fools them, they can keep their hands back. It’s kind of a pitch that stays in the zone for a long time and it’s a slower pitch. Good hitters can put the barrel on it and do damage.”
The microcosm of Tomlin’s night came in the top of the first after three singles to start the night, when the 32-year old plunked Avisail Garcia on an 0-2 pitch to re-load the bases.
Again, the pitch came as a means to set up his curveball, but neither worked.
“Obviously you’re not trying to hit a guy 0-2,” Tomlin said. “That’s a really good hitter and you have to keep him off the diving, off the pitch that’s going to be away. Or you try to set him up where you can kind of double up in there, just try to throw a good four-seamer up and in to keep him honest.”
Coming into Saturday night, the curveball had statistically been Tomin’s best pitch according to Fangraphs, carrying a 1.8 value. His combination of fastballs sit at -5.4, hence the need for it to be set up by breaking balls.
Tomlin now has a 5.73 ERA on the season, among the bottom 10 in baseball, while Indians starters currently sit at the bottom of the American League at 4.86.