Tomlin excited to join 'forward-thinking' Crew
Pina currently ahead of Kratz on depth chart; Counsell praises renovated complex
PHOENIX -- When it became clear the Major League contract he'd been seeking wasn't out there, Josh Tomlin started searching for the right fit. He sought a team that offered opportunity for a non-roster invitee, but also offered a chance to win. He asked around about clubs that were into the sort of sports science Tomlin had been exploring in an effort to revitalize his career after a disappointing end with the Indians.
He found what he was looking for at American Family Fields of Phoenix, the renovated spring home of the Brewers. Steve Karsay, the new Brewers bullpen coach who came to Milwaukee from the Indians organization, told Tomlin about the sports science wing under construction here. Tomlin signed a Minor League deal last week with an invitation to big league camp.
"They're forward-thinking and they have a lot of good things to offer," Tomlin said. "And they have a chance to win the World Series."
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Tomlin came close with Cleveland in 2016 and would like another chance to win a championship. The Brewers will initially stretch him out as a starter.
Now 34, Tomlin spent parts of nine seasons with the Indians, and 2018 was the most trying. He surrendered 25 home runs in 70 1/3 innings, posted a 6.14 ERA and missed more than a month with a right hamstring injury. In January, he went to Driveline Baseball outside of Seattle and spent eight or nine days in the biomechanical lab, throwing bullpen sessions while strapped with electrodes and under the watch of slow-motion cameras.
Tomlin came away with a better understanding of his arsenal: How his breaking stuff breaks; how spin rate and spin efficiency make a difference; what a little extra pressure from one finger can impact a pitch; how his stuff grades against other pitcher; and where he can get better.
"I know the game is going in that direction," said Tomlin. "You don't really want to be a dinosaur and be extinct in this game. If you don't evolve with the times in baseball, it will leave you behind.
"It's not the end-all, be-all, by any means. You still need good coaching around you. You need guys with good eyes, players and coaches, who see what you're doing and help you out. But [technology] is another resource. I learned a lot of cool stuff there."
Manager Craig Counsell said the Brewers were up front with the players involved that Manny Piña is No. 2 on the depth chart coming into camp and Erik Kratz is No. 3 behind starting catcher Yasmani Grandal.
"That's where we're sitting now, and that's a tough spot for Erik. We understand that," Counsell said. "He made a very meaningful contribution [in 2018], but we've tried to communicate that with him. Acquiring Yasmani put us in that spot."
The Brewers pounced when it became clear they could land Grandal, the top catcher on the free-agent market, on a one-year contract. Pina and Kratz both signed one-year deals to avoid arbitration; Pina's is guaranteed for 2019 at $1.6 million and includes a 2020 club option, while only $300,000 of Kratz's $1.2 million salary is guaranteed.
"He's seen a lot, experienced a lot, capable of handling a lot," Counsell said of Kratz. "That's why he's still going strong at age 39, because he's able to adapt. He'll adapt. If I went through camp, he's probably the guy who's most capable of handling news like this and understanding that it doesn't affect your work."
A steady drizzle prevented the Brewers from taking full advantage of renovated American Family Fields of Phoenix on the first day of organized workouts, but it didn't dampen Counsell's enthusiasm for the complex.
"It's awesome," he said. "I think everybody is thrilled with it. It's really providing new communication challenges, as much as anything. We're figuring all that out. But look, the space for the players is absolutely remarkable. Part of our job is to kind of figure out a way to leverage it as best we can throughout the spring. It's part of the moving-in process. … I'm marveling in what was accomplished in 10 months."