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Josh shelled early as Rays top Indians 7-4

Bradley Zimmer had a great game if you’re into that kind of thing.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at Cleveland Indians Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

The Cleveland Indians lost today and I don’t want to talk about it.

FIN

Talking through things begins the healing process, you know.

What If I don’t want to heal? What if I want to bear the pain of this loss for the rest of eternity, a shrieking undead albatross hanging from my neck that forever pecks at my face?

Okay. The Indians lost 7-4 in a matinee against the Rays. The bullpen sparkled and the offense inched its way back throughout the game, but never could close the gap. They lose the series to the Rays who improved to 21-22, while the Indians hover near .500 at 20-19.

Look, there have certainly been worse games in the history of Cleveland Indians baseball. I can distinctly remember three from the beginning of last season. I’m quite disgruntled that, again, a pitcher from the back half of the rotation gave the game away in the early innings. Sometimes I imagine the man from the movie Volcano that jumps out of the streetcar into lava and slowly melts away into nothing, and it perfectly captures how I feel when watching a game like this. I get emotional.

Sure, but emotion shouldn’t dictate how the team responds to something that can be analyzed with statistics. Tomlin’s BABIP today was .714. That’s a bit rough. Before today, he was significantly better in HR/9, BB/9, and K/9 than his totals from last season. So isn’t it just a matter of regression and time?

The problem is that his WHIP is up because the ball keeps finding holes. And after the ball finds a few holes in a row, it decides to plunge into an ice cold beer somewhere in the outfield bleachers. For the season, Tomlin’s BABIP will climb above .350 today. And you know what? I’m not sure it’s going to float down toward the league-average of .300 anymore. People are just flat-out murdering the ball against Tomlin when he misses his spots.

2017 Tomlin

2016 Tomlin

What on Earth is going on? For one, Tomlin essentially stopped throwing his Four-seam fastball this season and replaced it with a sinker. According to Brooks Baseball, Tomlin threw the four-seam 44% of the time in April of 2016, compared to a sinker 5.33% of the time; 24.41% of the time versus 18.75% of the time in September of 2016; and 1.10% of the time versus 30.39% of the time this May.

Also worth noting is how Brooks Baseball describes the pitch:

Substantially gravitational. A beachball. Got it.

The data appears to show that the issue is with the sinker. In 2016, hitters managed .172 off of the sinker. This year? .333. All of his pitchers are being hammered this year compared to last year, though. Could his change in pitch selection or execution regarding the sinker be causing the rest of his arsenal to suffer? We know that one great pitch can totally change a pitcher, as we watched Kluber’s two-seamer turn him into a Cy Young winner. I don’t think it’s a stretch to suggest that a substantial change to pitch mixes or effectiveness in regard to one specific pitch — especially a pitcher’s most effective out pitch in prior years — can cause a reversal of fortune.

I’m not the one who makes decisions regarding the future of Josh Tomlin, but after today’s performance and rooting around some of the numbers, it is clear to me that something is up. It does not appear to be the BABIP gods frowning.

What about the rest of the game?

The Indians bullpen came in and did what it does best: it held the opponents to a single run in 6.2 innings of work. Technically Otero allowed the final RBI, but he inherited the runner from Tomlin.

The offense wasn’t abysmal today, either. Back-to-back doubles by Lonnie Chisenhall and Bradley Zimmer (his first hit!) in the bottom of the third put the first Indians run on the board. Kipnis plated Zimmer with a single to add a second run. Brantley launched a double in the fifth that scored Lindor from first.

Last and most importantly, Bradley Zimmer hit a homerun in the bottom of the ninth to potentially lead a rally using the delightful swing pictured above. Remember that power we’ve been discussing? Boom. This is a welcome change from a certain other Indians rookie this year, who has gone great lengths to prove that bicepses can’t hit 30 dingers. It’s all about the goatee.

As for the rally: Erik Gonzalez hammered one to deep left, and Kipnis crushed a ball to straightaway center field, but neither left the park. I hate to type, “It was just that kind of day for the Indians offense again” but it is becoming a bit of a theme. Some days the hits land, the balls carry, and the Indians dump eight runs over the opponents heads. Some days none of those things happen. We had a fair mix today, I think.

The Indians are finished with the Rays for now, along with their stint at home. After a scheduled off-day tomorrow they travel to Houston where they take on the best team in baseball so far this season. The Astros are 29-12 with a 9-1 record in their last ten games. If the Indians want to bounce back after losing the last three series, it won’t be easy.