KANSAS CITY -- There will come a time to reflect on the remarkable career Josh Tomlin forged with the Indians. The non-prospect with the Texas drawl, armed with the type of fastball that is rarely referred to as a heater, has somehow been with Cleveland longer than any other player
KANSAS CITY -- There will come a time to reflect on the remarkable career Josh Tomlin forged with the Indians. The non-prospect with the Texas drawl, armed with the type of fastball that is rarely referred to as a heater, has somehow been with Cleveland longer than any other player on its roster.
In a 2-1, 10-inning loss to the Royals on Thursday night, when Tomlin walked off the Kauffman Stadium mound in the fifth inning, he may have thrown his final pitch in an Indians uniform. Tomlin's status for the American League Division Series roster is uncertain, and free agency looms when baseball's winter arrives.
"I've had that thought," Tomlin said. "Don't get me wrong, I've had that thought. But at this point, we're trying to play for something a little bit more."
The only future Tomlin wants to focus on for now is the immediate one, which the veteran hopes will include three champagne-soaked celebrations in October and a World Series championship in hand. In the meantime, the soft-spoken pitcher will continue to play cards with manager Terry Francona. He'll keep offering advice to his fellow pitchers. He'll continue to be the most revered teammate in Cleveland's clubhouse.
Tomlin's outing against the Royals was not flashy. The righty logged 74 pitches across 4 2/3 innings, finishing with five strikeouts and four hits allowed. The two staples of Tomlin's career were also present. He issued zero walks and gave up a solo home run. The blast came via Raul Mondesi in the third, tying the game at 1.
That homer aside, Tomlin said he feels the best he has throughout what has been a trying season.
"Oh man, there's no doubt about it," Tomlin said. "I finally got to a point where I know what my body's going to do. I'm not trying to force the issue. I'm just out there throwing and playing catch. It seems like I'm just playing catch. Everything's on time. I'm able to shape the breaking ball for a strike, for a ball."
Over the course of his 183 career regular-season appearances, Tomlin has issued 1.3 walks per nine innings. That is the 23rd-lowest mark in MLB history among the 1,529 pitchers with at least 800 innings. Tomlin's strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.6 ranks fifth on that list. However, he is last in homers allowed (1.7 per nine innings).
The long ball was Tomlin's biggest nemesis in 2018, when he opened the season in the rotation but was later demoted to the bullpen, before making a handful of spot starts down the stretch. Over 70 1/3 innings, Tomlin has a 6.14 ERA with 46 strikeouts against 12 walks, plus 25 home runs allowed.
When the Indians map out their ALDS plans for facing the Astros, the club will have four strong arms (Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger) for the rotation. Rookie Shane Bieber -- who features a precision-based style similar to Tomlin, but with more velocity -- appears primed for a relief role, if an ALDS start is not in the cards.
That makes it unclear how Tomlin might work his way into the October picture. There is an outside chance that Francona may want him available for multi-inning relief work, which was a role Tomlin handled well in the ALDS against the Yankees last year. In 2016, Tomlin was also a key figure in Cleveland's run to the World Series.
Clevinger smiled when asked about Tomlin's role in the '16 postseason. Clevinger recalled running into the right-hander outside Fenway Park on the eve of Game 3 of the ALDS, when the Boston crowd mockingly chanted Tomlin's name, but could not rattle him.
"That's still one of my favorite memories," Clevinger said. "He was walking back, because he was starting the next day. He was in his cowboy boots and his jeans were tucked into them and he had his mullet cut. After [Tyler Naquin and I] talked to him for a second, we're like, 'Yeah, we're going to go eat.'
"And we sat there and literally we both just watched him walk and we're like, 'That [guy] is about to beat the Boston Red Sox tomorrow in the playoffs.' We both just shook our head and laughed and went to go eat. And sure enough, he did."
The one thing Francona can count on is that Tomlin will accept any role, even if it means cheering on his teammates from the bench. That selfless approach is how Tomlin clawed his way up the farm system and eventually found himself as the longest-tenured player in the organization after parts of nine seasons in the big leagues.
"Your true colors come out when you're not doing well," Francona said. "He's been the same, whether he's 9-1 or 1-9. He always looks out for everybody else first. He lives it. He doesn't just say it. He lives it. Every day."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
October simulation: With two runners on, two outs and the game tied at 1, Francona pulled Tomlin and handed the ball to relief ace Andrew Miller (1 1/3 innings). It was the type of decision made in a playoff setting. Miller induced a sinking liner to center off the bat of Mondesi. Indians center fielder Greg Allen sprinted in and made a diving grab in front of him to end the inning. Per Statcast™, the play had a 48-percent catch probability, making it a four-star catch for the rookie outfielder.
"That's why we did it," said Francona, when asked if bringing Miller in was to simulate a postseason-type situation. "It's something that we could possibly do -- early into the game, but try to keep the game right where it is."
Royals walk off: Right-hander Neil Ramirez, who is competing for a spot in Cleveland's ALDS bullpen, issued two walks and allowed two steals in the 10th to set up Kansas City's game-winning hit. With runners on the corners, Salvador Perez pulled a pitch into left field for a walk-off single, igniting an on-field celebration for the Royals. It marked the 13th walk-off loss of the year for Cleveland.
When Allen swiped second and third in the 10th, that gave the rookie 21 steals this season. It also gave Cleveland four players (Jose Ramirez, 34; Francisco Lindor, 23; Rajai Davis, 21; and Allen) with at least 20 steals in the same season since 1911. That year, Shoeless Joe Jackson (41), Terry Turner (29), Neal Ball (21), Jack Graney (21) and Ivy Olson (20) achieved the feat for the Cleveland Naps.
HE SAID IT
"I think everybody here has enjoyed their time with him and has been better because of their time with him. Not just baseball-wise, but as a person, as a teammate. No one knows what the future holds. I would love to have Josh around, obviously. He's been a huge part of the clubhouse and team chemistry and leadership and stuff like that for his entire tenure here. There aren't enough positive things to say about the guy." --Bauer, on Tomlin
Prior to this season, Clevinger made it a goal to reach 200 innings for the Indians. Clevinger (12-8, 3.07 ERA) will have a chance to reach that mark on Friday, when the Royals host the Indians at 8:15 p.m. ET at Kauffman Stadium. Clevinger, who has a 2.00 ERA in 13 starts against AL Central teams this season, has pitched 193 1/3 innings. Kansas City will counter with righty Ian Kennedy (3-8, 4.59).
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook.