Braves: Could Josh Tomlin start the year in the rotation?

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Josh Tomlin relieved Mike Soroka in the Braves first intrasquad scrimmage and pitched a couple of scoreless innings before getting roughed up a bit in the third. At the time, I tweeted out about how he was an extremely undervalued piece for the Braves last year, and even though he’s not on the current 40-man roster, he’s a lock to be on the Opening Day roster.

I don’t think there’s any doubt about him being a piece of the bullpen, but he may begin the year in an even more crucial role than that.

Yesterday, Brian Snitker announced that Tomlin will start Monday’s scrimmage against Mike Soroka, and each will be scheduled to go four innings. With Felix Hernandez opting out and Cole Hamels still dealing with an injury, is it possible the Braves count on Tomlin to be the final piece to their rotation at the beginning of the season? I certainly would not count it out.

Kyle Wright has yet to pitch this spring, but I would expect that to change next week. Still, the fact that the Braves haven’t put him on the mound yet says something. Perhaps they view him more as a reliever in a shortened season, or there’s an undisclosed issue we aren’t aware of, but Tomlin is clearly being stretched out for a reason.

That may just be a long-relief role. Alex Anthopoulos said before Spring Training 2.0 that the starters will only go a few innings the first couple of times around the rotation. Tomlin thrived as a long reliever last season, recording a 3.74 ERA in 79.1 innings (51 appearances) and accruing 1.0 WAR. He did make one start as well, allowing just one earned run in three innings of work.

The reason for the Braves rolling with Tomlin is simple — trust. While Kyle Wright has ten times more upside, he’s yet to prove he can handle major-league pressure. Tomlin, if nothing else, is consistent. He doesn’t walk batters (1.3 BB/9 for his career) and induces a ton of soft contact. That’s exactly what the Braves should be looking for until Cole Hamels is at full strength. Expect Wright to receive his fair share of opportunities, and if he begins to succeed, the Braves will put him in the rotation. But until then, it looks like Tomlin will be the team’s fifth starter.

 

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