SEATTLE: For Indians right-hander Josh Tomlin, the hug from Tim Belcher at the top of the dugout steps Sunday morning probably meant as much as the 60 remaining text messages of 100 received that he planned to answer in the coming hours.
Now the Tribe’s special assistant for baseball operations, Belcher was Tomlin’s first pitching coach when the Indians called him up in 2010. The small-town natives have shared a special bond ever since.
Belcher talked like a proud papa about Tomlin’s complete game one-hitter in the Indians’ 5-0 victory over the Seattle Mariners on Saturday night in Safeco Field. Belcher confessed he was so enthused about Tomlin’s performance that he horned in on Tomlin’s postgame interview with Tribe broadcaster Jim Rosenhaus.
“I asked all the questions,” Belcher said.
Throwing the best game of his career, Tomlin accomplished something that only Len Barker had done for the Indians. In 17,715 games dating back to 1901, only Tomlin and Barker struck out 11, walked none and gave up one hit or less in a shutout. Barker’s came in his May 15, 1981, perfect game against the Toronto Blue Jays. Going back to 1914, only 21 players in major-league history have done it, according to baseball-reference.com; the only other this year was the Los Angeles’ Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw.
Tomlin’s “game score” on baseball-reference was 96, second-highest in the majors this season behind Kershaw’s 102 in a June 18 no-hitter against Colorado. It was the highest game score by an Indian since Bartolo Colon’s 97 on Sept. 18, 2000, against the New York Yankees.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Tomlin’s effort was the third time an Indians pitcher faced one batter over the minimum in a complete game shutout with double-digit strikeouts. That elite club includes Barker and Dennis Eckersley in a May 30, 1977, no-hitter against the California Angels. Hall of famer Bob Feller never did it despite recording three no-hitters and 12 one-hitters.
The last Indian to throw a complete game one-hitter was Billy Traber on July 8, 2003, against the New York Yankees.
Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway broke down Tomlin’s 111 pitches, 77 for strikes. Tomlin threw 64 fastballs, 19 curveballs, four change-ups and 24 cutters. There were 18 swings and misses by the Mariners, four hard hits and three line drives.
Left-handers (with the Mariners’ lineup boasting eight) went 1-for-25. When the ball was put in play, there were 17 pitcher-advantage counts, four hitter-advantage counts. Tomlin’s velocity averaged from 88 to 91 mph.
“A guy so comfortable in his own skin like Josh could care less about that,” Belcher said of the velocity.
Belcher was most impressed with Tomlin’s stretch that started in the sixth inning, when he struck out six of eight batters faced. Belcher also credited right fielder Ryan Raburn for robbing Kyle Seager of a leadoff double in the second inning. (Seager spoiled Tomlin’s perfect-game bid with a single to left in the fifth inning). But Belcher also mentioned Tomlin’s fielding of a James Jones bunt near the first-base line in the fourth.
“That was a tough play,” Belcher said. “He was so in line with the runner, he threw a screwball [to first]. He anticipates so well when a guy might be doing it.”
Callaway said Tomlin implemented for the first time Saturday a change in his mechanics, keeping his feet closer together. As his stance widened, Callaway said, “He was getting too much tilt so he couldn’t get back on top of the ball.” Tomlin said he first tried it June 22 against Detroit, but it was still a work in progress.
Since undergoing right elbow reconstruction in August 2012 that limited him to two innings of one game in 2013, Tomlin said he has a curveball that is no longer a “show-me” pitch to get hitters off something else. He has the arm extension to throw inside to left-handers, which he said he never did before. At the insistence of catcher Yan Gomes, he’s not afraid to throw his change-up. Callaway said Tomlin now has the arm speed to sell all his off-speed pitches.
After his big night, Tomlin went back to his hotel room, watched television and answered text messages until he nodded off.
“I was hoping for a moment like this,” Tomlin said Sunday. “My arm and my stuff felt good since I came back. I expect to go deep in games and keep us in the game. I don’t expect to do that every time. It’s nice to have starts like that every now and then.”
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the her blog at www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/abj.sports.