For much of this season, I’ve been fixated on the offense and their struggles. The lack of offensive production from the left-field platoon, and the team’s woes against left-handed pitching, are hard to ignore. I think I’ve neglected the problems of the rotation, in part because all of the starters have struggled at one point or another, even the typically reliable Justin Masterson. There are two pitchers though that really stand out – Derek Lowe and Josh Tomlin keep heading out to the mound every five days, and every five days they’re pretty terrible. I’m done hoping that “maybe their next start will be better;” it’s past time to take action at this point. This isn’t even something that I’m framing as a “this must be done to continue to contend” kind of move – this just needs to be done to make the Indians bearable to watch.
In Tomlin’s last 10 starts he’s sporting a 6.51 ERA, and in Lowe’s last 10 starts he has a 7.11 ERA. When you have an offense that’s sputtering, you can’t just give the other team a four or five spot in the first or second inning of the game. To be fair, in last night’s game Tomlin could have allowed one run and still lost the game. To me, that just doesn’t matter anymore. You can’t allow your opponent to put up lopsided numbers and bury you before you’ve even had a chance to get through the lineup one time. Lowe was the Indians’ most reliable pitcher at the beginning of the year, but those days are long gone. This is very similar to what happened to him in Atlanta last season, he started relatively strong and was just dreadful by the end of summer. I’m not sure whether or not it’s fatigue, or just simply the fact he’s not the pitcher he used to be. You can’t keep sending him out there and pretending that nothing is wrong and that he’ll turn this around. His success at the beginning of the year, and his struggles now are frustrating to me as a fan. I think it’s because it sort of epitomizes the 2012 Indians for me – this is a team that has talent, but nobody can put it all together at the same time. It seems that most of the starting five struggles to put together two good starts in a row, or struggles to put together good performances all at once (outside of Zach McAllister, who has become the most consistent pitcher). I think it’s how I’ve neglected to really call out much of the pitching staff – they’ve all had terrible moments this year. Tomlin and Lowe’s have now become so dramatically terrible, and so consistently bad, that they need to be pulled from the rotation.
There are theories that Tomlin’s troubles began after his wrist injury, and his numbers certainly took a tumble after his return from the DL at the end of May (even though his ERA was at 4.67 at the time he was placed on the DL). If you remember, Tomlin started his major league career at the end of 2010 and carried an amazing streak into August of 2011. In his first 37 major league starts, he lasted at least five innings. Tomlin has made 17 starts this far in 2012, and believe it or not, has lasted five innings or more in 12 of them. Tomlin has made 11 starts since he came off the DL; in five of those he allowed five or more earned runs. In the six starts prior to his trip to the DL, he did not allow five or more runs in any of the six. Tomlin has allowed 16 home runs so far this season, 13 of which he surrendered after his stint on the DL. To put that in perspective, Shin-Soo Choo and Asdrubal Cabrera are tied for the team lead in home runs with 12. It’s entirely possible that teams have “figured Tomlin out” by now since he doesn’t necessarily have nasty stuff. He survives through his precise control, rather than overpowering batters. I don’t see how you can leave him in the rotation when he continues to pitch as he did last night. I’ve heard that the Indians are considering moving him to the bullpen, but even that’s a concern since his first inning typically seems to be his worst. Perhaps lessening his workload could be of some benefit though.
Through most of April and May, Derek Lowe kept his ERA under three. At the beginning of June it began a steady climb that still hasn’t stopped. One of the positives about Lowe that I mentioned at the time of the trade is that he’s durable, and he’s been healthy for the entire year so far. (I’m just trying to find some positive at this point.) One point of concern is that Lowe averaged 6.6 strikeouts per 9 innings, and this year is only averaging 3.1. As bad as he looked on Wednesday night against the Tigers (4 ER) I had to admit that he looked tons better than Friday the 20th against the Orioles (9 ER). I have to wonder if Lowe wouldn’t benefit from the team skipping his next start; give him a chance to catch his breath and maybe help combat any potential fatigue. Acta has already announced that he’ll make his next scheduled start on Tuesday, July 31 against the Royals, coincidentally, the same day as the trade deadline.
So if I’m proposing the Indians pull Tomlin from the rotation, and at the bare minimum skip one of Lowe’s starts, I think I should at least list a few potential options for the Tribe. (Aside from joking that maybe they should have asked Aaron Cunningham if he could pitch before they DFAed him).
Minor league replacement. The Indians pull someone up from Triple-A Columbus, for at least a spot start to see how they do. This has its own set of complications – will the minor leaguer necessarily do any better than Lowe or Tomlin? Just because they’re on a roll at Columbus, doesn’t meant they could carry that success to Cleveland. Corey Kluber is currently 11-7 with a 3.59 ERA, 1.35 WHIP, and 128 strikeouts. (To put that in perspective, Lowe currently has just 40 strikeouts). I’m not sure how it would go, but you could give Jeanmar Gomez another shot – he’s currently 3-2 with a 3.15 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, and 26 strikeouts in Columbus.
Hope and pray that Roberto Hernandez can make a positive contribution. Even though he’s not eligible to pitch until at least August 11, we hope and pray as fans that he can step in and make a significant contribution to the rotation. I feel like this is the height of wishful thinking, but I also feel that pretty much everything involving Hernandez’s career at this point has involved some level of wishful thinking from Indians fans. I’ve always joked that he seemed like two different pitchers, one good and one terrible, and then it turns out that he has two identities to go with them. I guess we could hope that “Fausto Carmona” was the “bad” personality and that Roberto Hernandez is the “good” one. His control was solid on Thursday night, which gives me reason to dream.
The Indians make a trade. This would seem to be the most logical move, but it’s fraught with its own challenges. What if the Indians give up too much? A lot of people didn’t agree with the Ubaldo Jimenez trade, what if they trade more promising minor leaguers for a pitcher that doesn’t end up much better than internal options? The Indians have been connected to talks on James Shields from Tampa Bay. Even though the 2012 Shields isn’t exactly the 2011 Shields, his 4.52 ERA, 1.45 WHIP, and 134 strikeouts are still a big improvement over Tomlin and Lowe. If the Indians don’t overpay, this could turn out to be a big improvement.
With the struggles of the White Sox and the Tigers (who lost again today to Toronto) the Indians are still theoretically in this thing. They’re definitely not going to top either of those teams with Tomlin and Lowe pitching like this every five days.