ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.: Josh Tomlin is disappointed in himself. He thinks he should be performing better, at least as well as he did the past two seasons.
Tomlin began to stumble in the second half of 2011, and the difficulties have carried over to this season. In 14 starts, Tomlin is 5-6 with a 5.51 ERA. But give some credit to opposing hitters and the advance scouts who ferret out tendencies and vulnerabilities their teams can exploit.
“In 2010 and the first half of 2011, I would throw first-pitch fastballs down and away in the strike zone,” Tomlin said. “I thought if they hit it, they’d hit it to someone. But once they figured out what I was doing, they started sitting on that pitch, and I had to throw a cutter or change-up on the first pitch.”
It’s been well documented that batters began swinging early in the count against Tomlin, because he was always around the strike zone. That became one problem that Tomlin addressed.
Maybe the most significant difference in his numbers are walks allowed: Last year, he issued only 1.1 walks per nine innings, best in the majors, compared to 2.2 this year. That’s hardly something to be ashamed of, but he is much farther down the list this season.
“I’m not going to throw 95 or 96, so I have to figure out how to get guys out without overpowering stuff,’” Tomlin said.
That means pinpointing pitches, something Tomlin learned early in life. His father would make Tomlin chase the ball if he missed his dad’s glove, which never moved.
“We stopped doing it when I was 10 or 11,” Tomlin said, “because he didn’t want me hitting him in the chest if I missed his glove.”
Tomlin also is learning that a pitcher doesn’t have his best stuff or his best command every time he starts.
“I’m pretty confident that I can throw any pitch for a strike,” he said. “But in the second half of last year and this year, too many pitches are down the middle.
“My cutter hasn’t been there as much as it was in the past, either. It’s been a little bigger at times, kind of loopy. It’s more difficult to control.”
What has happened to Tomlin is called the learning curve of young pitchers.
“For the most part this year, I’ve been pretty inconsistent,” he said. “But I’ve got to get consistent, because I don’t have the stuff to throw it down the middle.
“I can’t expect to go through my career and not have a bad year. Not that this is yet. In my book, there’s still time to turn it around.”