The Indians are heading into Spring Training with two rotation jobs up for grabs and four candidates. This week, MLB.com will examine each candidate's respective situation and chances of winning the job. Today: Josh Tomlin.
CLEVELAND -- Josh Tomlin plays the role of the wise veteran well. With his Texas drawl and calm demeanor, the sentences that roll off his tongue are beginning to sound more like proverbs than baseball cliches. Tomlin has been there, and he has done that.
Tomlin has had his back against the wall for most of his career. Other pitchers with similar stuff might have bowed out of the game by now, but here Tomlin is, marked with the distinction of being the longest-tenured player in the Cleveland organization. And yet, once again, he is heading into Spring Training with nothing guaranteed.
"Wherever you start the season," Tomlin said, "that doesn't mean it's where you're going to finish."
There he goes, quoting the Book of Tomlin again.
When camp opens for the Indians in Arizona, the competition for the final two spots in the team's rotation will be underway. It goes without saying that Tomlin brings the most experience to the table, but both Mike Clevinger and Danny Salazar have strong cases to take the jobs. Lefty Ryan Merritt is right behind that trio, waiting for a window of opportunity.
• Salazar out to prove he belongs
Tomlin has been in Clevinger's shoes. Back in 2011, Tomlin made 26 starts, won 12 games and looked like a rookie poised to become a rotation staple. He has been in Salazar's position. Tomlin has gone through Tommy John surgery and endured other arm troubles that jeopardized his place on the pitching staff. He certainly knows what it is like for Merritt. Tomlin was a kid from a small town in Texas, a late-round Draft pick, and he had to prove in the Minors that his heart was bigger than any radar reading.
• Clevinger laser-focused on cracking rotation
After all that Tomlin has lived through in his career, he knows what sits atop his list of priorities.
"To win a World Series," Tomlin said.
If there are no unexpected setbacks with the rotation in the preseason, one or two of the four pitchers in question may need to move to the bullpen. Each of them have filled a relief role at some point, but to a man they each want to take the mound as a starter. Tomlin made 26 starts for the Tribe last year, finishing strong, but then shifted to the 'pen and worked three shutout innings in the American League Division Series against the Yankees.
When winning the World Series is the focus, Tomlin views putting the team first is most important.
"Whenever your time is called to pitch, you go out and do your job," Tomlin said. "The great thing about this team is that there is depth. If one guy gets banged up or needs a break or a breather, you're always going to need that guy to come in and step up. We have those guys who are readily available. That contributes to the success you have as an organization and as a team. It takes 40 men to get the job done, not 25."
That kind of attitude is why Tomlin has become a favorite among his teammates and Indians manager Terry Francona. It is why Tomlin is among the players asked to talk to the Minor Leaguers when the organization's annual fall development program rolls around. Beyond all the advice the right-hander can offer, though, he still has shown the ability to take the mound and win.
The overall picture in 2017 was not pretty: Tomlin posted a 4.98 ERA in 141 innings and missed a chunk of the season with a left hamstring problem. That injury flared in the midst of a brilliant road start against the White Sox on July 30, when Tomlin walked off the field after four no-hit innings. Tomlin returned strong in September to help finish out the year 6-0 with a 3.11 ERA and 45 strikeouts against three walks in 55 innings across his final 10 outings, including four in July. Tomlin's 7.8 strikeout-to-walk rate also led the Majors (minimum 140 innings).
That was just more experience for Tomlin to put in his back pocket.
"You just try to build off of what you did last year," Tomlin said. "Work on the good things, and keep looking at the positives, just try to have that positive mindset going forward. Don't let that negative stuff creep into your head and make it turn into something it's actually not."