The Indians did something unusual on Monday, opting for a bullpen game in place of their scheduled starter. Terry Francona used eight pitchers en route to a 6-2 defeat against the Astros. One of those pitchers -- the last of them -- was Josh Tomlin, whose recent struggles necessitated the odd approach.
Tomlin's inning-long appearance marked the first time since June 4 he'd completed an outing without allowing a home run. What's more is it was just the second time since August 10 he'd finished his day without allowing multiple home runs. Saying Tomlin has been homer-prone is as big an understatement as saying Elaine Dundy was okay at writing dialogue -- both, indeed, are outliers in their own regard.
For evidence of Tomlin's transcendence, consider how he's inching toward history with every additional bleacher treat he allows. Tomlin, at 35, is now three homers away from setting a new franchise single-season record, surpassing Luis Tiant's nearly 50-year-old mark -- Tiant, by the way, threw 250 innings that season; Tomlin is closing in on 150. Assuming Tomlin does get to 150 frames this season -- and he will -- he'll have a chance at setting the highest home-run rate we've seen in a season since 1961:
To quote the elegant Emma Baccellieri, "Home runs are not so much an Achilles heel for [Tomlin] as they as are a painfully infected flesh wound--that is to say, they don't seem so much to be a vulnerable point for others to attack as they do a weakness that consistently and actively sabotages him." And, boy, have home runs sabotaged Tomlin lately. He entered August with a 3.43 ERA and 11-3 record and exited with marks of 4.89 and 11-8 -- the result of allowing 10 home runs in 26 2/3 innings.
So, just what makes Tomlin so prone to the gopher ball?
You'd be wise to pick up on Tomlin's lacking velocity. His fastball, averaging about 89 mph, is one of the slowest among right-handed starters. There's more to it than speed, however. Tomlin's religion is throwing strikes, and he's as pious as they come -- meaning, in other words, he won't just give in to a hitter. That's evidenced by his 1.2 walks-per-nine rate, as well as that five of his home runs allowed have come on full counts -- or situations where conceding a walk might've been a better play instead of, well, this:
There's also the matter of Tomlin's reliance upon his cutter -- his go-to- pitch. Sometimes you hear about pitchers who fall into the habit of getting on the side of the baseball -- a risky byproduct of throwing too many cutters -- causing their fastballs to flatten out. Tomlin's issue might be that, and it might be the cutter itself -- as the Indians suspect. There's reason to believe that the cutter plays some role in Tomlin's woes, mostly because of this: 20 of his 35 home-run pitches have been cutters.
In a sense, Tomlin was built to challenge these records. He lacks the raw stuff or the willingness to concede a free base that would suppress his home-run totals, yet he possesses has the command to succeed when he's able to limit the damage -- important, since it allows him to remain employable.
Factor in how his primary pitch is potentially equal parts harmful as it is helpful, and it's no wonder why Tomlin is a home-run-ball collector's favorite pitcher.