CLEVELAND: Josh Tomlin’s nightmarish start to the 2018 season has left the Indians searching for answers, though as pitching coach Carl Willis tries to straighten out their veteran No. 5 starting pitcher, the club is also operating without a plethora of options in the organization.

Tomlin entered Sunday’s start with a 9.24 ERA and plenty of room to improve. He did, technically, lowering it all the way to 9.16. Tomlin hasn’t just struggled compared to his career norms, he’s struggled to keep his starts competitive to the point that it doesn’t put an additional strain on the bullpen. To his credit, Tomlin recovered from a five-run second to throw six innings on Sunday, at least lessening the burden on the staff and preventing a couple of relievers from being overworked.

Tomlin has been working with Willis to try to diagnose the problem. The Indians believe it partly has to do with his release point, something that has been tinkered with in the past.

“His hand had just wandered away from his head a little bit,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I know in his side day he really felt good about it. It’s never just one thing.”

With a pitcher like Tomlin who relies on command and precision over raw velocity and movement, any slight mechanical flaw can be devastating. He can’t get away with some of the mistakes that other pitchers can. Tomlin’s ERA has never been lower than 8.00 this season as he’s struggled to find his command and has also dealt with an unbalanced schedule due to some rainouts and off days.

“Right after I came out of the game, I came up here and looked at it and there’s a few mechanical adjustments that I was able to iron out, but they still creep back into it over the course of the game,” Tomlin said. “I don’t know if it’s what really happens, if you land wrong, you start wrong, you kind of rush your delivery, or you’re trying to make too good of a pitch, you just kind of get out of whack again, and then it takes me a little bit longer to kind of reel it back in.”

As Francona has detailed previously, the Indians don’t want to make a move solely based on one aspect. In this case, it means the Indians won’t remove Tomlin as the No. 5 starter just to do it — it also depends on their alternative options. Tomlin struggling, in a wider sense, highlights one of the shortcomings on the Indians’ 40-man roster.

It’s natural to want to find a replacement until he can iron out his command issues, but who takes the spot? The two primary options — Danny Salazar and Ryan Merritt — are both currently on the disabled list. Salazar still has no timetable and seems to be a long while away from taking the mound in a major-league game. At Triple-A, Adam Plutko might be the first call-up candidate. He has pitched well (2.35 ERA) and just pitched 7⅔ perfect innings in his last start. Plutko is already on the 40-man roster but has no track record in the big leagues. After that, the rotation at Triple-A includes Adam Wilk, Shawn Morimando, Alexi Ogando and Stephen Fife. The Indians could call up Shane Bieber from Double-A if they wanted to reach deeper into their system.

Tomlin is the longest-tenured player in the organization and has found his way out of slumps previously in his career. For now, it’s back to the film room, and the Indians are giving the veteran some time.

Thursday call-up

Plutko doesn’t yet have a regular spot in the rotation, but he is slated to start in the big leagues soon.

Francona said on Monday that Plutko is scheduled to start one of the doubleheader games on Thursday against the Toronto Blue Jays.

In addition to a strong start to the season, Plutko has also been much improved since returning from offseason hip surgery. He posted a 5.90 ERA while pitching through the hip issue, and the Indians have been encouraged with his progress.

“It looks like he’s getting a little bit stronger and he’s commanding the heck out of the ball,” Francona said. “So, that’s really good. You wonder now looking back how much his hip bothered him last year and he pitched with it the whole year.”

Carlos Carrasco, as long as his stiff back doesn’t linger as an issue, is slated to start the other game on Thursday.

Ryan Lewis can be reached at rlewis@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ.