CLEVELAND: Four of the five starting pitchers in the Indians rotation have enjoyed torrid starts to the 2018 season. Josh Tomlin, meanwhile, has been struggling to catch up.

Tomlin has struggled with his command and has been torched through his first four outings this season. In 12⅔ innings, he owns a 9.24 ERA and has given up eight home runs. And for a pitcher like Tomlin, command is king. He often can’t get away with some of the mistakes that a pitcher like Corey Kluber or Carlos Carrasco can simply because of the raw movement and velocity in their arsenal.

Tomlin deals more in the dark arts of precision, location, deception and unpredictability. Even without the raw stuff of a Kluber or a Carrasco — or, these days, Trevor Bauer or Mike Clevinger — Tomlin can keep hitters off-balance and make it work. He can get enough weak contact to put together five or six quality, efficient innings even while lacking some of the traits that would make a scout drool.

The problem isn’t hard to see. The solution, though, isn’t as clear. When a pitcher with Tomlin’s skill set doesn’t locate, it often won’t have a happy ending. If he misses, it needs to be off the plate. That hasn’t been the case.

“I’m making too many of those mistakes throughout the course of the game right now,” Tomlin said. “And even when I do make a good pitch, it’s a foul ball or they get the barrel to it and find a hole. It’s one of those things where I’ve got to either make an adjustment quicker than what I’m making or change what I’m doing out there in the moment, try something different at that time. Definitely, what I’m doing right now is not working, so it’s something that needs to be addressed.”

In some ways, Tomlin’s rocky start to 2018 mirrors how he began last season. Through four appearances last year — the same number he has logged thus far with a 9.24 ERA — he had a 9.33 ERA. That poor stretch ate up nearly half the season before Tomlin posted a 3.19 ERA in the second half. He’s been through this before, but it doesn’t mean the answer might be the same.

Tomlin knows he doesn’t have as much wiggle room as many other pitchers. When he struggles to locate, he’s left on an island with nowhere to go.

“It could be something small,” he said. “My mechanics could be spot on with where they were last year. It’s just something with the feel of the ball coming out of my hand. Little things like that can kind of get you a little bit out of whack. And, for me, missing this much compared to anther guy missing that much with 95 or 86 or 88, whatever the case may be, that room for error, for me, is a lot slimmer than most pitchers, and I understand that.”

Rotation options

If Tomlin continues to struggle, the Indians do have options. Danny Salazar and Ryan Merritt, both on the disabled list, could be candidates for the fifth spot once healthy. Salazar has been dealing with right shoulder inflammation while Merritt mends from a sore left knee that derailed his spring training.

Both have been pitching in Arizona. Merritt is slated to take one more turn before the Indians figure out the next step. Salazar, though, remains without a timetable.

“I think we’re trying to listen to what he says, how he’s feeling and continue getting him stronger and more ready,” Indians manager Terry Francona said of Salazar. “I just don’t know that we had a timetable just because we didn’t know.”

The Indians will have a decision to make in terms of how Salazar might be used when he comes back. He could be placed in the bullpen, which might mean a roster move for Matt Belisle. Or if Tomlin can’t find the answers for which he’s searching, Salazar could be stretched out to a starter’s workload and Tomlin could see some time in the bullpen to work out his issues.

The Indians have options, but the answers are still unclear.

“That’s a good question,” Indians general manager Mike Chernoff said last Sunday when asked what might be the plan when Salazar returns. “We’d obviously have to figure that out. It’s baseball. A lot of things can happen. There’s time. He hasn’t even gotten out to a rehab assignment yet. We don’t need to get into hypotheticals that are in the future. We’ve got enough in front of us.”

Either way, it’s Tomlin’s spot for now. He’s worked out of this issue previously. The search commences again.

Signed and delivered

The Indians made the signing of outfielder Melky Cabrera to a minor-league deal official on Wednesday.

According to Francona, Cabrera will head to the club’s facility in Goodyear, Ariz., for seven to 10 days to give him some time before assigning him.

“Just the idea is, from all accounts he’s been working pretty hard,” Francona said. “I just think, especially with a veteran guy, let’s let him get his legs under him. You send him right to Triple-A and then you’re asking for a sore arm so, rather than rush, we want to do it right and give him a chance to get in really good playing shape.”

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