CHICAGO — On the surface, Josh Tomlin against the slugging Cubs lineup at Wrigley Field is a severe mismatch.
The Cleveland righthander, who will face Kyle Hendricks in Game 3 of the World Series Friday night, features a fastball that routinely sits in the high 80s. He allowed 36 homers and 187 hits in 174 innings in the regular season.
But as many with the Indians quickly point out, Tomlin supposedly was in over his head earlier this postseason when he took on the loaded Red Sox in the American League Division Series and the almost-as-loaded Blue Jays in the American League Championship Series, and both starts worked out fine. The 32-year-old native of Tyler, Texas, nicknamed “The Little Cowboy,” picked up two wins and pitched to a 2.53 ERA, allowing no home runs and seven hits in 10 2⁄3 innings.
Tomlin gave up two runs and four hits in five innings in Cleveland’s 4-3 victory over Boston in the ALDS clincher and allowed one run and three hits in 5 2⁄3 innings of a 2-1 victory over the Blue Jays in ALCS Game 2.
During the regular season, he walked only 1.03 batters per nine innings.
“I just think he’s built to pitch good all the time,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I think when you get challenged, like tomorrow’s going to be an incredible atmosphere, it feels good to send him to the mound. He’s going to compete, and he makes the opposing team beat him. Doesn’t walk people. You can’t run on him. And sometimes the opposing team beats him, but he’s not going to beat himself.”
Tomlin endured plenty of struggles this season. He went 13-9 with a 4.40 ERA and was pulled from the rotation toward the end of August because of ineffectiveness. But with a rediscovered curveball, Tomlin went 2-1 with a 1.75 ERA in his last four starts of the regular season and carried that momentum into the playoffs.
“The execution of my pitches wasn’t where it needed to be,” he said of this August difficulties. “I was leaving balls over the middle of the plate and guys were taking advantage of that, getting in bad counts. When you’re not overpowering guys and you’re not inducing early contact and getting early outs, they can kind of sit on one side of the plate and they can do some damage on you.”
Francona’s decision to bring back Game 1 starter Corey Kluber on three days’ rest in Game 4 means Trevor Bauer and Tomlin will have to pitch on short rest in Games 5 and 6. Tomlin has pitched on three days’ rest only one time, in 2010.
“At this point in the season, I don’t think fatigue . . . I think adrenaline takes over when you get into the game,” Tomlin said. “You might not feel as good going out there and warming up, but once you get between the lines and you know the job, you have to try to accomplish . . .’’
He added: “After this series, this is it. So we have a lot of time to rest after that. I think if you were to ask any of us right now, we’d pitch every single day if we had to.”