CLEVELAND — Josh Tomlin wasn’t the Indians’ first choice, but he may wind up being their best.
After pitching well enough to win the fifth spot in the rotation this spring, Tomlin still lost out to Carlos Carrasco, and with the minor league options that Carrasco didn’t have, began the season at Triple-A Columbus.
But a little over a month into the regular season, Tomlin, a former staple of Cleveland’s starting staff, is back in the big leagues, replacing Carrasco in the rotation and offering up a sparkling debut Tuesday night.
“I understand that,” Tomlin said of the Indians’ decision to send him to the minors to start the season.
“This organization tries to do the best it can to put themselves in the best position to win. That’s what happened in spring training. I went down to Columbus and tried to work hard so I could get back here as quick as I could.”
He said the time with the Clippers — 2-1, 2.06 ERA in five starts — actually benefitted him.
“Just to get the legs underneath you again and to be in that starting rotation,” Tomlin said, “and going every fifth day and getting six, seven, eight, nine innings, whatever it is. I needed that.”
Some come back from Tommy John earlier, but the traditional post-surgery recovery time is a year. Tomlin had the procedure performed Aug. 22, 2012, and was activated Aug. 24 of last season.
“It’s about a year,” Tomlin said. “It’s still inconsistent sometimes those first 12 months. It was probably at the end of the year in September when that went away and you’re not thinking about it anymore.
“That’s the main thing to not have those reservations, those reservations in the back of your head, ‘If I throw this pitch down and away or I extend here, will it hurt?’ That’s when you feel like you’re back.”
Center fielder Michael Bourn (left hamstring tightness) missed his fourth straight game, but is expected to return today for the series finale against Minnesota, and at the latest, Friday, for the series opener at Tampa Bay.
Bourn took fly balls in the outfield and ran the bases prior to Wednesday’s game.
Fielding is still an issue for the Indians, who entered Wednesday ranked last in the majors in fielding percentage (.973) and tied for first with 33 errors in 33 games.
“It’s something we’re trying to figure out,” manager Terry Francona said. “I don’t think it’s effort. We’re just making some errors. It’s something we definitely want to do better, we need to do better.”
Left fielder Michael Brantley thinks it’s time for the hitters to offer better support for an Indians rotation that has pitched better as of late. Cleveland’s offense ranked second-to-last in the American League with a .231 batting average through Tuesday, and third-to-last with 127 runs.
“They’ve been throwing the ball well,” Brantley said of the starting pitchers. “Offensively, we need to step it up and give them more runs. They’re keeping us in every game. That’s all you can ask for out of them. They’ve been doing a great job and they’re going to continue to do a great job.
“Everybody puts a little bit more pressure on one another instead of just leaning on one another. We know what’s it’s going to take. We know how to win ballgames in this locker room. We have to continue to play good baseball.”
Right-hander Scott Atchison has been a pleasant surprise out of the bullpen, posting a 2.13 ERA over 11 games (12⅔ innings) through Tuesday, with opposing hitters batting just .136 (6-for-44) off him.
It has come as no surprise to Francona, who managed the reliever from 2010-11 in Boston.
“Atch is really an underrated pitcher,” Francona said. “He throws strikes, doesn’t beat himself, (has) movement. I think in the past, he’s been overused because he’s been that guy in the bullpen to eat innings. If you can stay away from that, he can really help you a lot. At 38, Atchison is one of the oldest active players in the majors.
“It’s not his fault he’s 38 and gray. He can still pitch,” Francona said. “He just happens to look like the groundskeeper for the Red Sox.”
Double-A Akron’s Shawn Armstrong was named Cleveland’s minor league player of the week (April 28-May 4), recording four saves and tossing 6⅓ scoreless over the span. Armstrong, an 18th-round draft choice in 2011, entered Wednesday having allowed only one earned run over 11 appearances.
The Indians relief ERA of 3.20 ranked second in the AL behind Oakland’s 2.62 ERA through Tuesday. Cleveland had stranded 51 of 60 inherited runners for a major league-best 84.6 percentage.