Nearly a year to the date of undergoing Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery, Josh Tomlin made his second rehab start Friday night at Canal Park, pitching for the same team he helped lead to the 2009 Eastern League championship.
Back then, a young Tomlin went 14-9 with a 4.16 ERA for the Aeros, leading the league in wins and ranking second with 125 strikeouts.
But Friday’s four-inning start for the Aeros wasn’t a demotion for the Indians’ right-hander. It was the passing of another test for Tomlin as he continues to make his way back from surgery.
Tomlin, 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, worked his scheduled four-inning rehab outing to start the game for the Aeros and was pleased with the results. He allowed a run on two hits in a 17-pitch first inning against the Reading Phillies, but was unscathed in the next three innings. In his 49 pitches (34 went for strikes), he did not issue a walk and struck out three.
“After allowing a run in the first, I was able to rebound, bounce back and get up and down four times without a problem,” Tomlin, 28, said. “To do that and come out healthy, that’s the main goal.”
A throwing error by Aeros second baseman Matt Lawson extended the second inning, but didn’t do any damage and Tomlin was in cruise control from there.
He retired the side on a fly ball to right field and a groundout to get out of the potential jam. He retired the side in order in the third and fourth innings.
“A run in the first inning, you’re going to experience that during the course of a game,” Tomlin said. “So it’s good to experience that now, to have a guy on base who ends up scoring and you get in the hole. The key is to see if you can rebound and keep it there, and I was able to do that.
“I felt like I was getting better as the game progressed. My stuff was getting a little bit better, a little bit tighter, that was definitely a plus.”
It was Tomlin’s seventh overall appearance since his return, including his second with the Aeros. He tossed two scoreless innings against the New Britain Rock Cats on Aug. 7.
Tomlin’s rehab began with two starts for the Indians’ Arizona Rookie League team at the end of July, followed by three outings at low Class-A Lake County.
Tomlin’s road back from surgery has been one baby step after another, but it’s a process he’s come to respect.
“I’m able to throw all my pitches now, so I’m not really struggling with anything,” he said. “But the curveball and my command is probably the last thing to come for me.
“But I was able to throw it [curveball] for a strike tonight when I wanted to and also bounce one when I wanted to. So for me, that’s another step in the right direction because that was something I wasn’t able to do in my last outing. That’s just more progress for me.”
The next big step for Tomlin is to be able to command his curveball and cutter.
“Front door to a right-handed hitter and back door to a lefty,” he said. “To be able to backdoor that curveball to a lefty is key for me to be able to throw it early in the count or even to get back in the count moving forward.”
Tomlin’s pleased with his command to this point, but he knows it needs to be a little more consistent when returning back to the big leagues and facing major-league hitters.
“For me, I like where it’s at right now,” he said. “But I’d like for it to get a little bit better.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Kent State blog at http://www.ohio.com/flashes. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/sports.abj.