A trio of 2017 debuts were a welcoming sight for Terry Francona and the Cleveland Indians on Thursday afternoon.
Despite Josh Tomlin's 3.2 shutout innings and Austin Jackson's home run, the back end of the Tribe bullpen spoiled the encouraging performances by allowing five runs (four earned) in a 5-4 defeat to the Los Angeles Angels from Goodyear Ballpark in Goodyear, AZ.
Jason Kipnis (right shoulder) went 1-for-3 in his first game back and Tyler Naquin (right foot) returned from a three-day hiatus with a solo bomb of his own.
Tomlin shows no rust
As the last pitcher from the 2016 rotation to make a spring training start, Tomlin effortlessly coasted past the Angels lineup by commanding the strike zone and controlling the running game. Yan Gomes gunned down a pair of stolen base attempts, Tomlin allowed three hits and no walks to the 12 batters he faced and Los Angeles failed to advance a runner past second base in the 3.2 scoreless frames he pitched.
"We were really pleased," said Francona to reporters. "You just want to see your guys go out there and establish arm strength, throw strikes."
Tomlin did just that by throwing strikes and keeping hitters off-balanced with his fastball, changeup, cutter and curveball. The seven-year veteran is coming off a campaign in which he posted a career-low 1.03 BB/9.
"He always does that," Francona said about Tomlin's ability to stay ahead of opposing hitters. "He commands so well that when he's commanding like that he has quick innings."
Two more debuts and pinch-hit magic
In addition to Tomlin, Jackson and Kipnis took the field and logged their first Cactus League action of 2017.
The adjustment period was rather brief as Jackson lifted a home run over the left field wall in the third inning and Kipnis slashed an opposite-field single in the fifth. Both players departed when the score stood at 3-1 in favor of the home nine.
"It was just nice to get them in the game and get them some at-bats," said Francona.
Boone Logan, Steve Delabar and Kyle Crockett surrendered three runs before the Indians returned to the scoring column on Naquin's pinch-hit home run in the home half of the seventh to regain a 4-3 advantage. Naquin was nursing a right foot contusion and was listed as day-to-day the past three days.
The decisive moments of the contest were defined by poor pitching and a costly defensive miscue.
In the eighth inning, Nick Goody gave up a single to Francisco Arcia and RBI double to Jared Foster to even the score at 4-4.
Chris Narveson followed and let the go-ahead run cross the plate when David Fletcher lined a base knock to right field. Leading up to the score, second baseman Yu-Cheng Chang mishandled a grounder to put the tying run on base. Narveson was not charged with an earned run, but did take the loss, his first of the spring.
Approximately one week after facing Clayton Kershaw, the Tribe will battle another premier NL pitcher in Madison Bumgarner on Friday at 3 PM ET from Scottsdale Stadium in Scottsdale, AZ.
With two shutout outings already under his belt (six innings), Trevor Bauer will look to extend his scoreless streak against the San Francisco Giants.