SURPRISE, Ariz.: First it was Ubaldo Jimenez. Now it’s Josh Tomlin.
Nobody expects perfection in spring training, but these two Indians starters have been serious underachievers during exhibition season. Tomlin made his second horrid appearance of the spring Sunday (none of the four could be described as first-rate), giving up six runs on 10 hits, as he struggled through four innings throwing 66 pitches, 46 strikes.
Alex Gordon homered off Tomlin with a runner on base in the first inning, Jeff Francoeur doubled in the same frame, and Alcides Escobar tripled home a run in the third.
Not all of the hits were struck with authority, by any means. At least three were blooped over the heads of infielders. On the other hand, Shin-Soo Choo made an excellent running catch of a drive to right that was headed for extra bases in the fourth inning.
“He threw some good pitches,” manager Manny Acta said after the 6-4 loss to the Royals. “But nothing [hit] was in-between. Everything was either over the outfielders’ heads or in front of them.”
Tomlin is not the kind of pitcher who gets in trouble because he walks the house. You have to hit your way on base against him, and the Royals did just that. Acta attributed the outing to unfortunate circumstances.
“It was a tough matchup for him,” the manager said. “He’s a contact pitcher; he’s not a strikeout guy, and the wind was blowing out. We knew it would be a tough day for him. He got his work in and that’s enough. He’s in our rotation.”
Acta never fails to emphasize the importance of throwing first-pitch strikes, and Tomlin is the kind of starter who knows he has to hit his spots and get ahead of hitters. Sunday, he faced 20 batters and threw nine strikes on the first pitch. A few got hit, including Gordon’s home run, a single and a foul ball.
“He’s usually better than that, but it was a tough day to pitch,” Acta said.
Tomlin said earlier in the spring that opposing teams changed their approach against him in the second half of last season. Because he throws so many strikes, batters began to swing early in the count, confident that they were going to get something to hit.
When Tomlin came to camp he considered making a change — that is, try to throw more to the corners on the first pitch or even try to make hitters chase something just off the plate.
Acta does not want him to go away from throwing first-pitch strikes, even if the hitters are swinging at them more often.
“I hope he doesn’t get it in his head to change his approach, because he can’t afford to get behind in the count,” the manager said. “He has to throw Strike 1.
“We continue to show our pitchers that over 90 percent of guys who swing at the first pitch make an out. So we don’t want our guys to shy away from throwing a strike on the first pitch. We love it when they [opposing batters] swing at the first pitch.”
Are there other reasons Tomlin might have struggled Sunday or in his previous starts?
The dry Arizona air straightens out the movement in pitchers’ breaking pitches. Moreover, the Royals and Rangers, the teams that Tomlin faced in his past two outings, are among the top offensive clubs in the American League.
In his start against Texas last Tuesday, Tomlin gave up seven runs (four earned) and eight hits in three innings. Of course, during the season, he will have to face both teams multiple times, and the strength of opposing lineups is no excuse.
Overall, Tomlin has given up 14 earned runs and 26 hits (two homers) in only 12 innings. He has yet to walk a batter and has struck out four.
Acta was pleased with the workmanship of the Tribe’s other pitchers. Frank Herrmann pitched one inning, allowed one hit and struck out two. Nick Hagadone delivered a hitless inning and also struck out two. Chen-Chang Lee threw two innings and gave up two hits, striking out one.
Hagadone and Herrmann are among several pitchers battling for the final two spots in the bullpen.
“Hagadone continues to throw the ball well,” Acta said. “He kept the ball down and showed a sharp breaking ball.”
None of the Tribe’s four pitchers issued a walk. For the spring, Indians pitchers are averaging 3.1 walks per nine innings.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/tribematters. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.