The Indians are shifting fifth starter Josh Tomlin to the bullpen in favor of rookie right-hander Adam Plutko, manager Terry Francona revealed last night (link via Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer). Plutko, 26, will be recalled later this week to make what will be his second Major League start. Hoynes notes that Plutko “would appear to be the Tribe’s fifth starter for the time being.”
It’s been a struggle this season for the veteran Tomlin, who has posted a 7.84 ERA in seven appearances, six of which have come out of the rotation. The 33-year-old is demonstrating his typical brand of excellent control (1.7 BB/9), but his 5.2 K/9 mark is his lowest since 2012, and he’s surrendered an unthinkable 15 home runs in 31 innings of work.
Tomlin has spent parts of the past nine seasons on Cleveland’s big league roster, working both in long relief and out of the rotation, so the hope for now seems to be that a move to the relief corps will help him overcome his struggles while giving a younger arm the opportunity to prove himself. The timing of his troubles is hardly ideal, given that he’s set to reach free agency at season’s end, though there’s still more than four months for him to right the ship and return to form.
Plutko was long considered one of the organization’s most promising pitching prospects before a disastrous 2017 season in Triple-A caused his stock to drop. However, after posting an alarming 5.90 ERA in 135 2/3 innings with Columbus last season, Plutko is off to a strong start in 2018, having compiled a tidy 2.25 ERA with 7.2 K/9, 1.8 BB/9 and 0.8 HR/9 in 44 innings of Triple-A ball. He’s also already made one spot start for Cleveland this season, holding the Blue Jays to three runs on six hits and no walks with six strikeouts through 7 1/3 innings earlier this month.
[Related: Cleveland Indians depth chart]
The Indians’ rotation remains a strength even in the face of Tomlin’s 2018 struggles, of course. Cleveland starters rank fourth in the Majors with a 3.42 ERA and have thrown the second-most innings of any starting staff in baseball (295), trailing only the Astros. Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger form an enviable top four in the starting mix, but an injury would test the organization’s depth. Prospect Shane Bieber and journeyman Adam Wilk would likely be next in line for a look in the big league rotation, at least based on Triple-A performances.