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Inbox: Should Tomlin stay in 'pen permanently?

Beat reporter Jordan Bastian answers questions from Indians fans
May 21, 2018

Has there been any thought of moving Josh Tomlin to the bullpen permanently? If he could throw his best stuff for one inning and mix in more curves, could he have some value in that role? Right-hander Adam Plutko looks ready to take over the fifth spot in the rotation.

Has there been any thought of moving Josh Tomlin to the bullpen permanently? If he could throw his best stuff for one inning and mix in more curves, could he have some value in that role? Right-hander Adam Plutko looks ready to take over the fifth spot in the rotation.
-- Shaun K., Fairlawn, Ohio

The Indians might have reached that point this week.
As things currently stand, Plutko is set to come up from Triple-A Columbus to start against the Cubs on Wednesday in Wrigley Field. Tomlin will move to the bullpen in the meantime, with Mike Clevinger (Thursday), Corey Kluber (Friday), Carlos Carrasco (Saturday) and Trevor Bauer (Sunday) handling the next series against the Astros. Once we know the probable starter for May 28, we'll know if the decision to go with Plutko over Tomlin was temporary.

There is some risk to putting a player of Tomlin's attributes in a bullpen. The right-hander does not feature high velocity and he is prone to giving up home runs. Through 31 innings this year, Tomlin has allowed 15 homers. That's a rate of 4.4 home runs per nine innings in 2018, boosting his career rate to 1.6 over his nine seasons.
In 17 career relief outings, Tomlin has a 7.76 ERA and .981 opponents' OPS. Given the size of that sample, perhaps it's more fair to look at some career marks for Tomlin (starting and relieving combined).
Opponents' OPS by pitch count
Pitches 1-25: .745
Pitches 26-50: .764
Pitches 51-75: .830
Opponents' OPS by times faced
First PA vs. batter: .731
Second PA vs. batter: .781
Third PA vs. batter: .849
So, in theory, Tomlin might be better if he is limited to facing a handful of batters once as a multi-inning reliever. The righty excelled in that role during the American League Division Series against the Yankees last October, logging three no-hit innings with four strikeouts and no walks.
In those ALDS appearances, Tomlin featured his curveball 30.3 percent of the time vs. 24.1 percent of the time in the 2017 regular season. His cutter usage also rose (51.5 percent vs. 35.1 percent) and his fastball use dropped (18.2 percent vs. 36.7 percent). Tomlin focused on his best pitches in a limited-exposure relief role and had success. Maybe it can work this time around, too.
Submit a question to the Indians Inbox

I think this has been more of a case of Yan Gomes playing his way into regular innings. Offensively, Gomes has posted a 111 weighted Runs Created Plus (indicating that he's hit 11 percent above league average to this point) and his slash line (.257/.328/.460) has been above his career mark (.244/.293/.421). His 0.7 WAR (per Fangraphs) ranks 12th among MLB catchers.

Looking at his defense via Baseball Prospectus, Gomes has logged 3.3 Fielding Runs Above Average, ranking him sixth overall in the Majors. He was tied for fifth with 3.0 Framing Runs Above Average. Per Statcast™, Gomes has had a slight edge on Roberto Perez in average pop time, arm strength and exchange speed. Both were below league average so far with a 14 percent caught-stealing rate apiece.
I don't see the situation impacting Francisco Mejia's timline to the big leagues right now. The Indians want their top prospect getting regular playing time, and he wouldn't be getting that in Cleveland with Gomes doing the bulk of the catching.

The rotation depth is thin at the moment, so I don't see this happening. With Plutko in the Majors now and Tomlin moved to the bullpen (temporary or otherwise), Shane Bieber suddenly looks a phone call away from The Show. If something were to happen to one of Cleveland's big league starters, there is little depth behind the group at the moment. Keeping Bieber, who is ranked the club's No. 8 prospect, in a starting role provides an important layer of depth. It's unclear how much longer it will be before Ryan Merritt and Cody Anderson -- both on the 60-day disabled list -- are realistic depth options again.

This comes down to the old adage: It takes two to tango. Even if the Indians wanted to be aggressive in acquiring help via trade now, this is not the time of year in which the market has developed. The options right now are limited, which is why Cleveland made a minor move to reel in Oliver Drake from the Brewers. Those are the kinds of trades that typically happen in this part of the season. As the Indians get closer to the non-waiver Trade Deadline on July 31, there will be a clearer sense of what is available and that is when the Tribe can more realistically make a strong push.

Yes, Danny Salazar is ramping up his throwing program again after receiving a PRP injection for his problematic right shoulder earlier this month. The bigger question is whether Salazar will be an option for the rotation or bullpen, if and when he returns in the second half. Here's what Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations had to say on that topic last week:
"Right now, we're looking at how we get Danny healthy. Let's get him healthy. Let's get him throwing regular bullpen [sessions]. Let's get his intensity up to the point that he's at a spot, competitively, where he can pitch at the Major League level. Once we start clearing some of those hurdles, we can assess if that's going to be more likely in the rotation or more likely in the bullpen. Some of that's going to be dependent upon what's happening with the Major League team."

Lonnie Chisenhall is just beginning a Minor League rehab assignment in his comeback from a right calf strain. The outfielder will play on an every-other-day basis at first, as he builds up his strength and endurance. The Indians have not announced how many games Chisenhall is expected to log before potentially rejoining the Major League outfield.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.