CLEVELAND -- Tasked with shoring up an ailing rotation, Indians starter Josh Tomlin found success at a crucial time with an altered pitch mix.By incorporating his curveball more than any other pitch, Tomlin fired 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball to earn the win on Saturday in Cleveland's 2-1 victory
CLEVELAND -- Tasked with shoring up an ailing rotation, Indians starter Josh Tomlin found success at a crucial time with an altered pitch mix.
By incorporating his curveball more than any other pitch, Tomlin fired 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball to earn the win on Saturday in Cleveland's 2-1 victory over Toronto in Game 2 of the American League Championship Series. The Tribe now leads the best-of-seven set, 2-0.
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Tomlin was bumped up from starting Game 3 when original Game 2 starter Trevor Bauer cut his right pinkie finger while repairing his drone. With Bauer's effectiveness uncertain and Game 4 starter Mike Clevinger not fully stretched out after spending time as a reliever, it was imperative for Tomlin to go deep into the game.
Throughout the regular season, Tomlin depended heavily on his cutter (40.9 percent of pitches) and four-seam fastball (30.2 percent), while his curveball was a distant third pitch (14.9 percent).
But on Saturday, Tomlin uncorked curveballs on 36 of his 85 pitches, when his previous season high was 29 curveballs. This worked well, as the Blue Jays were last in the Majors during the regular season in batting average (.161) and slugging percentage on balls in play (.237) against curveballs.
"To me it was just find the grip, stay with it, and just trying to execute it," Tomlin said. "And some days it's good, some days it's not, and you've got to adjust accordingly. That's not to say it's going to be good the next time out; if it's not, then I've got to go with something else. Try to get creative with it."
Toronto's best hitters, especially, struggled to pick up hits when putting curveballs in play. During the regular season, their BABIPs against the pitch were among the lowest in the league -- Josh Donaldson (.195), Edwin Encarnacion (.195), José Bautista (.184), Michael Saunders (.121) and Russell Martin (.100). And on Saturday, that group went 2-for-11 against Tomlin, with a pair of walks.
The Blue Jays could not muster a hit off Tomlin's curveball, and they tallied six swings and misses, including two strikeouts. They didn't put a curveball into play until Donaldson led off the sixth inning with a groundout to shortstop on the first pitch he saw.
"He changes speeds pretty well, and he attacks the zone," Donaldson said. "He throws strikes. He uses all quadrants of the strike zone, which is something that he does a good job at."
Although Tomlin only threw 18 of his 36 curveballs for strikes, he was able to use them to attack early. Tomlin threw 16 curves in either 0-0 or 0-1 counts, and his first six first-pitch curves all went for strikes.
"I needed to establish I could throw for a strike early on, and then it was a pretty good pitch," Tomlin said. "It was effective early on. So the endgame strategy at that point was use whenever is a good time for it and see if we couldn't get them out in front to try to get some early outs."
Tomlin used a curveball-heavy strategy in his first postseason start, which came in the decisive Game 3 of the AL Division Series against the Red Sox. He threw 23 curveballs -- more than any other pitch -- among his 68 pitches and held Boston to two runs on four hits over five innings.
Ben Weinrib is a reporter for MLB.com.