Second Thoughts Game #38: Indians 6, Rays 5
Tomlin and Morgan drive Tribe to third straight series win
Two things I learned on Sunday: 1) Josh Tomlin has earned a spot in the rotation for a while, and 2) Nyjer Morgan has become a key contributor to this team's success.
The Indians have now won three straight series after taking the finale of their three-game set against the Rays. Strong starting pitching and just enough offense has attributed to the Tribe winning seven out of their last 10 games.
Could they have played better? Yes, two of their three losses in that period could be considered winnable games, but it's hard to complain when they're winning each series.
Player of the Game: Nyjer Morgan (3-4, HR, 2 RBI, 3 R, K)
I've been on the fence about Nyjer Morgan being on the team, but his performance since being recalled from AAA Columbus has won me over. On Sunday, he recorded three hits, including his first home run since joining the Tribe. It's become obvious that he wants to be here and he will give 110% in any role he's use in.
In 14 games so far, the veteran outfielder is batting .341 in 14 games with a home run, a double and six RBI. He also has an impressive OBP of .429 as he has drawn more walks (7) than strikeouts (6).
Someone pointed out to me on Twitter over the weekend that Morgan could be what Jason Giambi was to the Indians a year ago and now I'm starting to wonder the same thing.
Of course, they're different types of players in that Morgan is younger and more versatile, but so far, he has proven to be effective as a leader on the team. That's not to say Giambi doesn't have a place on the team anymore, but his presence and leadership may be limited more to the dugout and clubhouse. In other words, he might as well get comfortable on the DL.
While it gives the Indians four left-handed outfielders, it is becoming clearer with each game that the team cannot part ways with Morgan anytime soon. (FYI: The Indians are 9-5 when Morgan appears in a game.
Tomlin Solid Again
From the start of spring training, Josh Tomlin has pitched well in 12 games (10 starts) between Arizona, AAA Columbus and Cleveland going 5-2 with a 2.58 ERA. On Sunday, he pitched six innings while allowing only two runs. He also struck out two without walking a batter.
This current streak of strong pitching from the rotation, sans McAllister's start on Saturday, has been encouraing for the team moving forward. It has been the driving element to the Tribe's recent series win streak.
Tomlin's success can be explained as simply as it always has during his career, he throws strikes. Between Columbus and Cleveland, the right-hander has only walked 10 batters in 47.2 innings of work. He has also struck out 34 in that period. The strikeouts could be a result of him abandoning his sinker this year and focusing more on his cutter and curveball.
The one thing to watch out for with Tomlin is hitters zeroing in on his pitches every now and then. Despite his success, he has served up home runs in both of his starts. Fortunately, they were both solo shots, which are easier to live with, but the way he works within the strike zone does keep my expectations with him somewhat tempered.
If he continues to limit the damage, however, he could be very effective in the back of the rotation.
Axford out, Shaw in?
News broke on Saturday that John Axford would be removed from the closer's role, at least for the time being. Well, Sunday provided the first save opportunity for the Tribe and their new closer-by-committee system as Bryan Shaw got the call first and pitched a 1-2-3 ninth inning for his second save of the year.
The seemingly obvious choice for the vacant closer role would be setup man Cody Allen and his 13.5 strikeouts per nine innings, but Shaw's 0.86 WHIP so far this season is also intriguing.
Shaw's arsenal of pitches is also worth considering in the closer's role. According to Fangraphs, he's continuing to rely on his cutter (72.1%) while throwing his slider more often (23%). Having constant movement on his pitches has resulted in fewer line drives (16%), more ground balls (44%) and more infield fly balls (15%) as hitters are having a harder time squaring up on his pitches.
While Shaw is getting strikeouts (8.2 K/9), he does rely more on his defense to get outs, which with the Indians leading the major leagues with 37 errors is a risk to consider.
Up next: Indians (18-20) vs.Blue Jays (18-20) @ The Rogers Centre. First pitch Tuesday @ 7:07 pm ET.
The Indians get a day off on Monday as they travel north of the border to prepare for a three-game set against the Blue Jays, who have lost three straight games against the Angels. Tribe ace Justin Masterson is coming off back-to-back wins in which he pitched at least six innings. He's had the Blue Jays' number including his April 18th start at home against them where he pitched six and a third innings while allowing only two runs and striking out nine.
Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey has pitched better as of late going 2-0 with a 3.28 ERA in his last four starts. He has also pitched at least six innings in each of those starts. While his ERA against the Indians was only 3.75 last year, they still managed to beat the left-hander in both his starts against them last season.
Jake Dungan is a communications student at Stark State College and an intern with the Akron RubberDucks. Follow him on Twitter @MajorLeagueJake.
Tomlin also had a throwing error, so that's two errors by Tribe pitchers yesterday. The muffs continue. At least Asdrubal is starting to play some pretty good defense. That play he made from deep in the hole was actually impressive.
Love to watch Nyjer play. The guy looks like he is having a blast. He's the most entertaining player I've seen in an Indians uniform. He's the very definition of the word "sparkplug". Whether it's diving into first base to beat out a bunt or slamming a home run that eventually is the deciding run, he's very fun to watch.
Except for the period when Tomlin was trying to pitch through a significant injury he has been a solid major league starter. I have no hesitancy about supporting him to stay in the rotation just as much as someone like Kluber.