GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Don’t get Josh Tomlin wrong. He’d love to win the fifth spot in the Indians’ rotation this spring, but after what the right-hander’s been through, he’s just happy to be part of the discussion.
Once a staple of Cleveland’s starting staff, Tomlin, 29, is fighting for his baseball life — and a spot on the big league roster — as he attempts to return from reconstructive elbow surgery.
“I feel pretty blessed to be in this situation right now, competing for that spot,” said Tomlin, who tossed four scoreless innings and struck out five Sunday in a 4-2 victory over the Brewers at Goodyear Ballpark. “The main thing I take out of these outings is how I feel the next day and how I feel during the outing. So far, so good, so I really can’t complain.”
Tomlin underwent surgery at the end of the 2012 season, then came back to make one appearance out of the bullpen for the Indians last year. He arrived at camp as healthy as he’s been in years and resembling the Tomlin of old — 1-0, with a 2.00 ERA and nine strikeouts in nine innings of three exhibition appearances.
“He pitched as advertised and the way he needs to pitch,” manager Terry Francona said after watching Tomlin’s performance against Milwaukee.
“He threw strikes, he kept the ball down. He holds runners. He basically doesn’t beat himself.
“I think the more he gets removed from Tommy John (surgery), the more you see him feeling good about himself and attacking the zone. It’s bright, his future’s really bright.”
But does that future include pitching in the majors this year? Tomlin is in a crowded competition for one rotation spot. The field includes veteran Aaron Harang, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer.
“I really don’t think about it,” Tomlin said. “I know there’s a lot of talk about it for sure. Every time we talk to you all, it’s about that fifth spot. But I think we’re all in this for the same goal and that’s to win a World Series. Whatever that takes, whether it’s competition in that spot or not, we’re all working toward the same goal, and I think that’s the main thing.
“I’m not losing sleep over it. I knew coming in there was going to be a competition, for sure. I didn’t pitch at all. I pitched two innings out of the (bull)pen and I was recovering from Tommy John surgery, so I knew coming in there was going to be a spot open and I knew there was going to be guys competing for that spot. I’m just fortunate enough to be one of those guys competing.”
Tomlin, who won a spot in the rotation out of spring training in 2011, is attempting to repeat the performance. He was pleased with his latest effort.
“It’s a good step,” he said. “I feel good and that’s the main thing I take out of that … getting up four times and going out there and throwing four innings and feeling good, even in that fourth inning.
“I know I threw quite a few pitches for only going four innings, but I still felt good and I still felt strong, so that’s another positive I take out of it.”
No one in the field has stood out, mostly because all four have pitched well. Carrasco is 2-0 with a 1.29 ERA in three games, Harang 1-0 with a 1.80 ERA in three games and Bauer 0-0 with a 3.60 ERA in three games.
It’s a nice problem to have for the Indians, who could also use one of the candidates as a long reliever.
“Normally in spring, you let guys pitch out of innings, just because they need the work,” Francona said. “Guys have come in and thrown strikes, so they really haven’t had a big inning. Staff-wide, they’ve done a really good job of working ahead, all the things you’re looking for.”