CLEVELAND — While the Cleveland Indians have more question marks covering them than the Riddler from the Batman comics, No. 4 starter Josh Tomlin has become their superhero of consistency.
The right-hander became the team’s first pitcher since 1919 — an era when pitchers would sometimes stay on the mound for both games of a doubleheader — to pitch at least five innings in his first 13 major league starts, and led the Indians to a 3-1 victory over the Boston Red Sox on Tuesday night.
“Tomlin did a fantastic job out there tonight,” Indians manager Manny Acta said. “He especially did good against left-handed batters, getting 13-of-15 out. He used his change-up to keep them off balance, then when they were looking for the change-up he would sneak in that cutter … and that pitch gets in on the batters quickly.”
In his 2011 debut, Tomlin allowed just one earned run on three hits through seven innings. He improved to 7-4 in his brief career with the Indians — 6-1 at Progressive Field — and has turned away some of the most prolific ballclubs and feared lineups in baseball.
Tomlin made his major league debut July 27, and handed the New York Yankees — with former Indians Cy Young Award winner CC Sabathia on the mound — a 4-1 defeat.
“I’m not scared of the competition,” Tomlin said. “I just go out there and do what I’m supposed to do and everything else will take care of itself. That’s just how I was raised.”
Growing up in Tyler, Texas, has given Tomlin his country charm — he loves hunting, George Strait and lists his father, Jerry, as the biggest influence on his life.
Being selected in the 19th round of the 2006 MLB Draft — No. 581 overall — has kept him humble. Tomlin worked his way up from Single-A Mahoning Valley to Double-A Akron to Triple-A Columbus before finally getting his chance to shine in the major leagues last season.
Tomlin said the steady climb up the ladder was because he remained consistent.
“I approached every start the same,” he said. “Whether it was my first start in the minor leagues to this last start against the Red Sox, I just want to go out there and pitch deep into games.”
While Tomlin has shown a knack for that — he even threw a complete-game four-hitter against the Kansas City Royals on Sept. 24 — Acta said he doesn’t expect Tomlin to see too many triple-digit pitch counts.
“He throws a lot of strikes,” Acta said. “They are either going to hit him or he’s going to get them out. He’ll be out (of the game) after 70-80 pitches because he pitches to contact.”
Tomlin said that’s his plan of attack.
“I try to get the ball in play,” he said. “Those guys behind me get paid millions of dollars to do what they do … and they do a great job.”
The Indians defense bailed out Tomlin a couple of times Tuesday. Matt LaPorta made a diving stop on a line drive to retire leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury in the sixth inning, and right fielder Shin-Soo Coo picked up an assist when he gunned down J.D. Drew at the plate in the second.
“I knew (Drew) was out the minute (Jarrod Saltalamacchia) hit the ball,” Tomlin said. “I thought if he tries to score on that from second base, Choo was going to throw him out at home.
“Choo’s arm speaks for itself — his arm is unbelievable.”
Indians fans could soon be saying the same about Tomlin.