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Is time running out on Indians' Tomlin?

By PAUL HOYNES • Updated Jul 10, 2018 at 3:42 PM

CLEVELAND — Josh Tomlin is the 12th man on the Indians' pitching staff and right now manager Terry Francona can't pitch him.

He keeps trying, but it's not working.

Tomlin made his third appearance in as many games on Monday night. He started the ninth against the Reds. The Tribe was trailing, 5-1, and the competitive part of the game appeared to be over. This was a chance for Tomlin to find something, anything that could help him be an effective pitcher again.

He threw a scoreless ninth inning in Sunday's 6-0 loss to the A's, retiring the side in order with two strikeouts. Could he build on that with another ninth inning in another lost game on Monday?

Francona was willing to give him that chance. Tomlin started the inning by giving up a single to Billy Hamilton, the No. 9 hitter. Then he allowed a two-run homer to Scott Schebler, who went 4-for-5 on the night, to give the Reds a 7-1 lead.

Tomlin faced four more batters before ending the inning. He is 0-5 with a 6.98 ERA in 23 games. He has allowed 63 hits, including 21 homers, in 49 innings.

But that's not the bad part. That came in the bottom of the ninth when the Indians, sleepwalking through the first eight innings, scored four runs before losing, 7-5. If Tomlin hadn't allowed the two-run homer, the four-run rally would have at least tied the score.

So if Tomlin, 33, can't pitch in a game that is all but lost, when can he pitch? That is the question manager Terry Francona and the front office have to be wrestling with as the All-Star break approaches and they make plans to improve the roster for the second half.

The Indians are 0-3 in their last three games. On Saturday, the bullpen wasted a 3-0 lead and seven scoreless innings by Corey Kluber in a 6-3 loss to the A's in 11 innings. Tomlin started the 11th with the score tied, 3-3, and allowed a two-run homer Matt Chapman. A third run scored on an error by shortstop Francisco Lindor.

Tomlin, who pitched himself out of the rotation in May, has made three appearances in the last three days. In two of those games, he's allowed critical home runs that have led directly to losses.

Prior to Tuesday’s game, Tomlin was then put on the disabled list with a right hamstring strain. Adam Plutko was recalled for a fourth time to replace him on the roster. 

If Josh Tomlin wasn't Josh Tomlin, the longest tenured player on the Indians, he probably would have already been designated for assignment. He has re-invented himself so many times in the past to win big games and pitch meaningful innings for the Indians that it makes sense that Francona and the front office would give him every chance get his game back together.

Francona is especially close to Tomlin. How could he not be after watching Tomlin and Kluber carry a wounded starting rotation through the postseason all the way to Game 7 of the World Series in 2016? On the last road trip, Francona told reporters that Tomlin really wanted another chance to start. But with him struggling so much in one-inning appearances what kind of problems would a start mean?

Tomlin's teammates feel the same way about him.

"The coolest part is he'll be right back here tomorrow, working his rear end off," said Mike Clevinger, Monday's losing pitcher, "and that's Josh Tomlin. He's the Little Cowboy, man. He's the reason we were where we were the last two years, and people seem to overlook that, even with his rough stretches.

"If you didn't see what he did in October, even down the stretch, you're missing a big, big piece,” he added. “I mean, he works too hard not to get it back, so I think we all have faith in him."

So what else can the Indians do with Tomlin?

— They could designate him for assignment, hope he clears waivers and see if he would accept an assignment to Class AAA Columbus.

— They could option him to Columbus, but they'd need his permission because he is in his eighth season in the big leagues. They did a similar thing with Fausto Carmona, aka Roberto Hernandez, several years ago.

Tomlin, meanwhile, keeps looking for answers. They have been hard to find.

"When you're going like this, it's tough to put a finger on one specific thing," Tomlin said. "You get behind a guy and you thought you made a pretty good pitch and they still put it in play. Or it still finds a hole or it's over the fence.

"That's just where I'm at right now. It's frustrating, but after tonight, I'll come back tomorrow and try to find a way to get better. That's the only thing I can do."

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