CLEVELAND — Manager Terry Francona shed some light on what might have contributed to Josh Tomlin’s poor outing in his season debut last Tuesday against the Angels in Anaheim, Calif.
Francona said Tomlin, who allowed eight runs and four home runs in three innings of a 13-2 loss, was dealing with a back issue that began with the third batter.
That’s why the Indians moved Tomlin’s second start from Monday to tonight, while ace Corey Kluber jumped him in the rotation to pitch on regular rest in the series opener against Detroit.
“We backed JT up a couple days just so he doesn’t have to fight this for the next month,” Francona said. “I think he threw a side a couple days ago and everything went well. So hopefully the couple days bought him where he can go pitch, as opposed to trying to fight it. He was having a tough time finishing his pitches the other day (in Anaheim), so hopefully this will help him.”
Tomlin, who missed a month in the second half with a hamstring injury, got off to a brutal start last season, going 4-9 with a 6.17 ERA over his first 16 starts. He bounced back to post a 6-1 record and 3.11 ERA in his final 10 outings, finishing the season at 10-9 with a 4.98 ERA in 26 starts, while leading the majors with 0.89 walks per nine innings.
It was the third-lowest by a Cleveland pitcher, and Tomlin leads the franchise in the category at 1.315.
Michael Brantley was not in the lineup Monday as the Indians ease the left fielder back into an everyday role.
Like nearly all of his teammates, Brantley has struggled at the plate — 2-for-11 over three games — but he did produce the winning hit Friday in a 3-2 win over the Royals in the home opener.
“(I) actually think it’s pretty amazing that he just steps in and seems like he picks up where he left off,” Francona said. “Team-wide we haven’t swung the bat very well. But he looks to me like give him some at-bats and he’ll be just fine.”
Cleveland entered Monday batting a major league-low .159 as a team and scoring 27 runs over its first nine games.
After losing Justin Verlander, Ian Kinsler and others, Detroit is no longer a team carried by veteran stars.
“They’re a lot different,” Francona said of the Tigers, who are expected to endure a rebuilding year, like a number of clubs in the Central Division. “They’ve got the guys in the middle (Miguel Cabrera, Nicholas Castellanos and Victor Martinez) still, but before them and after them, they’ve gotten a lot younger. And some of those guys look like they’ve got a chance to be pretty good players.
“When you catch a team early, it’s interesting because you watch them in a short sample and guys look good, but you don’t know until later on in the year which ones take it and run with it or (if) the league finds something (and adjusts). It’s always fun to watch. But they’ve got some good-looking young players.”
Cabrera, 34, batted under .300 (.249) last year for the first time in nine seasons, producing career lows in homers (16) and RBIs (60) over 130 games.
“He’s a pretty elite hitter,” Francona said of the 11-time All-Star and two-time AL MVP (2012-13). “I know he battled a lot of stuff last year but when he’s healthy, he’s ... because you’re not going to see him get a lot of infield hits. When he hits .300, he hits .300. There’s power and he uses the whole field. He’s certainly one of the better hitters in our generation here.”
Francisco Mejia started in left field for Triple-A Columbus on Monday, as the Indians continue to experiment with the highly touted catching prospect in the outfield. With Lonnie Chisenhall on the DL with another right calf injury, Mejia could be an option should Cleveland’s outfielders continue to struggle offensively.
... Angels rookie starting pitcher and designated hitter Shohei Ohtani’s fast start has propelled him to the top of the AL MVP odds — 3/2 (plus-$150). Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor has the seventh-best odds at 19/1 (plus-$1,900).
... The Indians entered Monday leading the AL and ranked second in the majors with 10 stolen bases.