GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Josh Tomlin’s major league story is a true tale of perseverance.
A 19th-round draft pick who attended a community college in Lufkin, Texas, for two years, Tomlin was far from heralded when he began his professional career.
The right-hander doesn’t possess an overpowering fastball — 90-92 mph — or a knee-buckling breaking ball.
He has also endured two major injuries — Tommy John surgery in 2012 and right shoulder surgery in 2015 — over a six-year career.
The odds have been against Tomlin at every turn since he broke into the big leagues in 2010 and yet he’s overcome them all with grit and guts that were on display again last year.
Yanked from the rotation after a series of poor outings, Tomlin caught his breath and returned to provide the Indians with a quality starting pitcher when they needed it most.
“I think he deserves a ton of credit because, one, he didn’t hang his head or pout, which we know that’s never going to happen,” manager Terry Francona said. “He looked at some things himself. He dug deep into kinda who he needs to be and he came up with a lot of conclusions that were really helpful.
And then when he got back in (the rotation), man, it was like he hadn’t missed a beat. And that was huge, because as we saw going forward, we were losing pitchers and then he’s coming back to being that pitcher. That really helped us.”
Not only did Tomlin find his groove in time to fill a void left by injuries to starters Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, he took it into the postseason, where he performed admirably under the bright lights of October, winning his first two outings in the ALDS and ALCS and starting twice in the World Series.
“For me, personally, I think it was just trying to realize that you’re still playing a game,” said Tomlin, who went 13-9 with a 4.40 ERA in 30 regular-season games (29 starts). “There is added pressure, but to me, pressure is privilege. You earn the right to have that kind of pressure. I don’t feel like any of us really let the moment get too big or too small. It was just go out there and play the game you’ve been playing your entire life.”
Tomlin’s late-season comeback had more adversity attached. He was forced to leave the team in August after his father, Jerry, suffered a life-threatening medical scare.
Like nearly everything he’s encountered during his career, Tomlin overcame it, pitching with his father in attendance for Game 3 of the World Series at Wrigley Field and in Game 6 at Progressive Field.
“He handles everything. He’s as good a teammate as I’ve ever seen,” Francona said. “We all knew he had a lot going on. You don’t find a better teammate than him.”
But you do find better pitchers — ones who have more talent and stuff, but have enjoyed less success than the soft-tossing righty.
“Command is what leaps out first,” Francona said. “When he’s going good, he can command his fastball, he commands all his pitches. He pitches in effectively, throws his cutter off of that fastball, flips that breaking ball in — it’s a real quality mix.
“Last year when he started maybe to fatigue a little bit or tire, he started throwing that cutter more and more and more and he was yanking it across the plate and he was missing. That’s when he runs into trouble, but when he’s crisp and going good, it’s command, and I don’t think the radar gun matters. When you look at him and every pitch looks crisp, that’s when he’s ready to go.”
Tomlin got it going at the right moment for the Indians, but he didn’t have much time to reflect on his accomplishment.
“For me it was just getting back to Texas and getting back to work as soon as I could,” Tomlin said. “Obviously, taking the time off to kind of let the mental side of your brain kind of recuperate from what just happened, and the physical aspect of playing into November was different than the past. So for me it was take a month off and get back to the grind of working out. I think it was just a little bit later timeframe to start things, but you really don’t do anything different.”
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