"Change is vital. Improvement is the logical form of change."—James Cash Penney
If the Cleveland Indians plan to win the American League Central in 2012, the pitching staff's starting rotation must improve in terms of performance or, if necessary, by personnel.
On Saturday night the Tribe surrendered a very winnable game at Progressive Field, 7-4 to the Minnesota Twins following an inauspicious start from Josh Tomlin, fresh off an injury to his wrist.
Tomlin allowed four runs in his first inning but looked outstanding following the rough start.
That has been the story for the Wahoo Warriors during a roller-coaster month of May and indeed throughout the year.
The first inning has demonized the Tribe's pitching staff, leaving the young bats in the field to valiantly claw their way back from three- and four-run deficits like the Indians found themselves in Saturday.
Under the strong management of Manny Acta, the Indians have actually used this rough stretch to improve their offensive consistency. Under such perpetual desperation after first-inning follies, the Wahoos have honed the small ball, run-manufacturing fundamentals like stealing bases and drawing walks, in large part as a reaction to their early-inning pitching struggles.
The assertion that something must change out of the gate for the Tribe is no joke: Ubaldo Jimenez's ERA in the first two innings is 7.65.
On Saturday, Tomlin recovered strong after a tough first inning back from the DL. The fact that Tomlin performed past the fifth inning, another demon for the young starter, should encourage Tribe fans and demonstrates the quality of Tomlin's recovery.
As a team, the Tribe have struggled in the first as a whole: with a 6.53 ERA in the first inning, they've done the vast majority of their run-surrendering right out of the gate.
Curiously, Justin Masterson, Jeanmar Gomez, Josh Tomlin and Ubaldo Jimenez all demonstrate a tendency to start with a rough first, settle down and then struggle through a tough fourth (in the cases of Masterson and Gomez) or fifth, as Tomlin and Jimenez have.
The wily veteran Derek Lowe has even pitched at a 6.55 ERA in the first inning, but once he's into a groove, Lowe has locked it down with consistency.
Meanwhile, Zach McAllister goose-egged the opposition for the first two innings in each of his four outings with the Indians, and Vinnie Pestano continues to impress from the bullpen.
Could either merit a shake-up in the Indians' rotation without an injury? The major question will prove to be: How long will Manny Acta continue to allow Jimenez to work out his mechanics before relegating the high-profile trade acquisition to the bullpen?
Along with the Tribe's offensive improvement from last season, the pitching staff's overall performance outside the first inning should encourage the young team.
While the Indians hitters could not have reacted better to these early-inning struggles out of the pitching staff, this kind of inconsistency will prove unsustainable for a team whose sights unequivocally lie on the AL Central crown.
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