Given the fact that the Indians are looking for starters for 2011 and beyond and Tomlin might not necessarily project as anything more than a big league middle reliever, according to manager Manny Acta, Thursday night's display had to work in his favor.
"He continues to help himself with the fact that he throws strikes," Acta said after the victory. "And that's something that we're trying to do here. We're trying to get back to where we were a couple of years ago, where our pitching staff was among the top strike-throwers. ... So he fits that mold."
Tomlin, whose fastball sat between 88 and 92 mph, still managed to strike out five Mariners, and two of the seven hits he allowed were of the infield variety.
He didn't get in much trouble until the third, when Ichiro Suzuki doubled, Chone Figgins singled him to third, former Indian Franklin Gutierrez drove home the game's first run on a sacrifice fly, and Branyan, who began the year in Cleveland, launched an 89-mph Tomlin cutter off the window of a suite near the top of the right-field foul pole. The only question when the ball was struck was whether it would be fair or foul, which is why Branyan lingered in the batter's box, wondering if he should trot or not.
"Most of the balls I hit like that hook foul on me," Branyan said. "I just wanted to make sure it was fair before I left the batter's box. In no way, shape or form was I trying to show anybody up."
Tomlin seemed more offended by his own pitch choice than anything else.
"I watched it," Tomlin said of the homer. "I watched it for a long time. I watched him, too. ... I've seen him hit the ball pretty far, but that tops them all right there."
When told that the shot was officially listed at only 381 feet, Tomlin laughed a bit.
"I don't believe that," he said. "I think it was 481, maybe."
The towering homer gave the Mariners a 3-0 lead, and the way Seattle righty Doug Fister was going -- he had a one-hitter through five and retired 14 consecutive batters at one point -- it seemed like a quiet night for the Tribe.
But the Indians gave Tomlin all the help he'd need in the sixth. Luis Valbuena led off with an infield single, and with one out, Cleveland strung together singles by Michael Brantley and Asdrubal Cabrera to load the bases for former Mariners outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, who doubled deep into the right-center-field gap to clear the bags and tie the game. The next batter, Travis Hafner, stung a single to right to score what would become the winning run.
Choo added a two-run, opposite-field homer in the ninth for insurance. He tied a season high with five RBIs and has now hit in four consecutive games and is batting .372 (16-for-43) with nine RBIs over his last 11 games.
"He's a legit complete player," Acta said. "That five-tool word gets thrown around a lot, but he's legit five-tool."
And the beleaguered Indians bullpen, which had surrendered 14 runs in its previous 11 1/3 innings, did its job Thursday, too. Tomlin departed after six, but was aided with superb work by Tony Sipp (two perfect innings, four strikeouts) and closer Chris Perez, who worked a shutout ninth for his 17th save.
All in all, a positive night for the Tribe, which snapped a four-game losing streak, and another steppingstone in what could be a long Major League career for a strike-thrower named Josh Tomlin.
"I think every start for me is a learning experience right now," Tomlin said. "Always, you've got to get ahead with first-pitch strikes, and in that third inning, I definitely fell behind hitters. I feel like I need to do a better job of being consistent at getting ahead of hitters.
"The only thing I think about right now is my next start -- to continue to do that for the rest of the year, start by start, pitch by pitch."