Tag:Tim Belcher
Posted on: July 5, 2011 10:09 pm
 

Overlooked as always, Tomlin's a 10-game winner

CLEVELAND -- As of Tuesday afternoon, five American League pitchers had reached double-digits in wins.

Four were one-time first-round draft picks, another a touted second-round pick. They're all big names: CC Sabathia, Justin Verlander, Jered Weaver and Jon Lester.

The fifth guy? Josh Tomlin of the Indians.

Not a first-round pick (19th round, actually). Not a big name (seriously, had you heard of him before this year, or even this year?).

He's 10-4, with a 3.78 ERA. He just set a modern major-league record, becoming the first pitcher since at least 1919 to begin a career with 29 consecutive starts of five innings or more. Monday night, he carried a no-hitter into the seventh inning against the Yankees.

Pretty wild stuff for a guy who was available (and not taken) in the Rule 5 draft not long ago, a guy who was never invited to the Indians' big-league camp before this year, or even to their winter development program for top prospects. Not bad, for a guy who says he never threw a no-hitter in college, in high school, or even in junior high.

"I don't know if I ever took one past the third inning [before Monday]," Tomlin said Tuesday afternoon.

His average fastball this year, according to Fangraphs, is just 87.6 mph -- well below average for a big-league starter. But his command is far, far above average; Tomlin has already made eight starts where he went at least five innings and didn't walk a batter, the most in baseball (Roy Halladay and Dan Haren are tied for second, with six).

"I'm kind of stunned if he walks one," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "If he walks more, I want to blame the umpire."

The guy all the scouts overlooked for so long is finally getting noticed.

"All the hard throwers ought to have to watch one of his starts," one scout said Tuesday.

"He's an ideal guy in the American League," another scout said. "Those hitters love to hit the fastball. He can get ahead with breaking balls. When he's locating, guys make quick outs."

That same scout bet friends this spring that Tomlin would win more games this season than either Fausto Carmona and Carlos Carrasco. So far, he's right.

"He knows where every pitch is going," Indians pitching coach Tim Belcher said. "He's fearless, too."

He's not Verlander (although Tomlin says he did throw a 94 mph fastball once, when he was a reliever in Class A Kinston, in 2008). He's not Weaver, he's not Sabathia and he's not Lester.

But he is one of the big reasons the Indians are in first place, and he is one of the best stories in baseball right now.

*****

It's hard to know how big a deal it is that Tomlin has made 29 straight starts of more than five innings. It's impressive that he's the first in recorded history to do it at the start of a career, but it's not like it's anywhere close to the overall record (Curt Schilling went at least five innings in 147 straight starts between 2001-06).

One interesting sidenote on it, though. Belcher, whose career path was nothing like Tomlin's (a hard thrower, he was the top overall draft pick in June 1983, and again the following January), began his own big-league career with 12 straight starts of at least five innings.

He might have gotten to 13 and beyond, but in the third inning of that 13th game, Belcher was pitching for the Dodgers against the Mets. Sid Fernandez had thrown at Steve Sax, so in the third inning, Belcher drilled Kevin Elster in the back, and was ejected from the game.

Posted on: May 2, 2011 3:57 pm
Edited on: May 2, 2011 6:33 pm
 

Is it time to believe in the Indians?

A week ago, I'll admit, I was still dismissing the Indians' hot start.

I'm still not ready to believe, but I'm getting there -- and not just because their 19-8 record is the best in the majors.

Plenty of teams play well for the first 30 games of the season, only to fade. In fact, of the last 12 teams to start a season 19-8 or better, only seven made it to the playoffs. The 2006 Reds started 19-8, and didn't even manage to finish .500.

One scout who follows the American League Central said Monday, "The best thing the White Sox and Tigers have going for them is that they're chasing the Indians and Royals."

Still, there are reasons to believe, according to scouts who have followed the Indians:

1. Grady Sizemore looks like himself again. When I did the Indians camp report in February, I wrote that the most interesting question for the Indians was "whether the Grady Sizemore of 2007-08 will return."

"He's back," one scout said. "He's moving awfully well."

2. Michael Brantley looks like Grady Sizemore, too.

"He's another Sizemore," the scout said. "He takes good at-bats, he can throw, and he can run."

3. Justin Masterson is better than he was, Josh Tomlin is better than you think, and Alex White can be a difference-maker.

Masterson started 0-5 last year. He's 5-0 this year. Scouts say he could be even better if he would consistently use his sinker against left-handed hitters, who are still hitting .295 against him.

Tomlin is 4-0, and on the way to living up to one scout's spring training prediction that he would win more games than Fausto Carmona or Carlos Carrasco.

As for White, the 2009 No. 1 draft pick who debuted Saturday against the Tigers, one scout called him "the real deal." Told that the Indians actually think 2010 first-rounder Drew Pomeranz will be better than White, the scout said, "Well, then they'll have two top-of-the-rotation guys."

White only joined the rotation because both Mitch Talbot and Carrasco are hurt, but this scout predicted that there's no way the Indians can send him back to the minor leagues now.

"They'll just have to pay him," he said. "They ought to sign him to a long-term deal right now."

4. Tim Belcher's message is getting through.

Belcher worked in the Cleveland front office after retiring as a pitcher, then became the Indians' pitching coach last year. One scout gives him credit for the Indians' strong start, saying, "Belcher has them pitching to a game plan. The stuff isn't that electric, but they make it work."

5. The Orlando Cabrera effect. Cabrera moves from team to team, but as one scout said Monday, winning follows him. Since July 2004, when the Expos sent him to the Red Sox as part of the Nomar Garciaparra deal, Cabrera has changed teams seven times, but has made the playoffs every year but one.

"He's a menace," one scout said. "He's not great at second base, but he wins."

And so, for now, do the Indians.



 
 
 
 
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