Josh Tomlin made a triumphant return to the Indians rotation Tuesday, not only helping the Indians snap their two-game losing streak via a 4-2 victory, but recording his first major league win in nearly two years.
The start was Tomlin’s first in the big leagues since July 27, 2012 before he underwent Tommy John surgery and enduring the ensuing yearlong recovery that cost the right-hander nearly all of the 2013 season.
But for as big as the moment must have been, Tomlin didn’t show it on the mound as he pounded the strike zone and worked ahead to limit the Minnesota Twins to a run on four hits and a walk over 6 2/3 innings.
“I definitely had some anxiety going before the game, but good anxiety,” said Tomlin, who sported a long-sleeved Under Armor T-shirt in his post game presser featuring the phrase: “The greatest casualty is being forgotten” – in support of the Wounded Warrior project. It is the same anxiety I had gotten out there in years past. To be able to go out there and pitch well was pretty special.”
The military motto was just as fitting for Tomlin, who was overlooked coming out of spring training in favor of fellow right-handed starter Carlos Carrasco for the fifth and final spot in the Indians rotation. Adding even more irony to the situation was the fact that a little over a month later, Tomlin was starting in Carrasco’s spot with the later having been moved to the bullpen after struggling in his first four outings.
Tomlin’s teammates happily welcomed him back, gifting him with an early cushion with which to work - a rarity during the Tribe’s recent lean offensive days. After Tomlin needed just 13 pitches to sit down the Twins in order to start the game, the offense thanked him with two runs in the first inning and then two more of the insurance variety in the second against Twins starting pitcher Samuel Deduno.
“The name of the game is to score early and give the pitchers a lead so they can get a little more comfortable and even more aggressive,” left fielder Michael Brantley said. “We need to do a better job of just continuing to put pressure on the defense and continue to put runs on the board.”
Nick Swisher sparked the offense in the bottom of the first inning with a double off the centerfield wall that snapped his 0-for-11 skid. Brantley followed with a run-scoring double to put the Indians on the board. A Buckneresque error on first-baseman Chris Colabello (a ball right under his outstretched glove near the bag) allowed Brantley to score and pad the lead to two runs.
The Indians went right back after Deduno in the second inning when Lonnie Chisenhall led off the inning with a single, then advanced to second base on a balk. Yan Gomes followed with a sharp double right up the middle that might have decapitated Deduno had he not ducked, and Swisher continued his offensive momentum with a two-out single that drove in Gomes and pushed the lead to four unanswered runs.
Deduno, a reliever making his first start of the season in place of the injured Mike Pelfrey – on the disabled list with a groin injury, finally began to settle in and kept the Indians off the board for the next three innings. The right-hander finished his five-inning outing having allowed the four runs (three earned) on six hits and two walks, striking out two.
But the strike-throwing Tomlin kept the Twins offense in check through six dominating innings before Colabello made up for the run he allowed with one of his own for the Twins via a one-out solo home run that only marred Tomlin’s outing by merely breaking up the shut out bid.
“I walked out to him before the game and just said, ‘Hey, man, enjoy the (heck) out of this,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “He loves to compete, you can tell. We gave him the lead and he did exactly what you’re supposed to do - threw strikes, used both sides of the plate and worked ahead. He started getting comfortable flipping his curveball over and (he) just worked ahead and down.”
Even with Indians set-up man Cody Allen and closer John Axford unavailable to pitch with the day off after being heavily used recently, relievers Marc Rzepczynski and Scott Atchison shut out the Twins for 1 1/3 innings before Bryan Shaw side stepped an unearned run in the ninth to pick up his first save of the season to preserve Tomlin’s much-deserved and long-awaited victory.
“It’s very satisfying when you put in the hard work and you come back from (Tommy John),” Tomlin said. “There never is any guarantees you will come back from that surgery. Around the league there are a couple guys who had to have a second one before getting back out there. So to be able to come out here and not have any reservations about the elbow is special.”