WASHINGTON — Right-handed pitcher Josh Tomlin, a former standout at Whitehouse High School, had not been used in more than a week when he was approached by Brian Snitker, his manager with the Atlanta Braves.
It was early April and the Braves were at the hitter-friendly confines of Coors Field in Denver to face the Colorado Rockies, and Snitker just wanted to make sure his reliever from Tyler knew he was still part of Atlanta’s bullpen plans.
“He just wanted to touch base,” recalled Tomlin, 34, who added that wasn’t necessary. “I really appreciated it.”
Tomlin said the communication is excellent between Snitker, pitching coach Rick Kranitz and the Atlanta relievers.
“The communication is outstanding,” Tomlin said.
And the faith in Tomlin — in his first season with the first-place Braves — was rewarded when he came through with an impressive appearance out of the bullpen against the Washington Nationals last month.
In that game June 23, Atlanta starter Mike Soroka, named to the National League All-Star team Sunday, was forced to leave the contest after just two innings when he was hit by a pitch in the top of the third.
The Braves called on Tomlin, who gave up a hit to the first batter he faced then retired the next 12 batters. He did not figure in the decision but was vital as Atlanta beat Washington 2-1 in 10 innings.
“It was awesome,” Snitker told reporters. “That was about as good as you can do. Huge. All the strikes. The guy has just been Johnny-on-the-spot for us, that is for sure.”
“I was fortunate enough to get some quick outs,” Tomlin said. “Mike is a tough guy. You assume he is going to try and go back after that” after getting by a pitch.
But that didn’t happen and Tomlin was allowed plenty of time to warm up.
Tomlin, a product of Texas Tech, was 1-1 with a 3.91 ERA and one save in his first 29 appearances out of the bullpen this season for Atlanta.
That came after he was let go in spring training by the Milwaukee Brewers and signed by the Braves on March 21 to a minor league contract.
Before that, he became a free agent after pitching in the majors for the Cleveland Indians from 2010 through the end of last season.
“I talked to a handful of teams,” Tomlin said after he became a free agent. That included the Toronto Blue Jays, but he eventually went to spring training with the Brewers. Milwaukee has a strong bullpen, with All-Star lefty Josh Hader, and Tomlin was signed by the Braves on Feb. 7 to a minor league contract and invited to spring training.
Tomlin made 144 starts in regular-season play for the Indians and also started two games of the 2016 World Series, in which the Indians lost to the Chicago Cubs. He won a career-high 13 games for Cleveland in 2016, but at the end of last year he sensed things were changing.
“I kind of knew my time was up and they were trying to get young. I think they wanted to get younger,” he said of the Indians.
That was reinforced in November when veteran catcher Yan Gomes was traded to the Washington Nationals for young pitcher Jefry Rodriguez and minor league outfielder Daniel Johnson.
Johnson began the year at Double-A in the Cleveland system, advanced to Triple-A and was recently named to the Futures Game that will be held in Cleveland on Sunday.
Now Tomlin has found a home with the Braves. Another Tyler native in the Atlanta bullpen is lefty A.J. Minter, a former Brook Hill and Texas A&M standout.
After the strong outing in Washington, Tomlin was not used again until June 27 in Chicago against the Cubs.
He went 2.2 innings and gave up four hits and three runs (two earned) and was tagged with the loss.
“The first inning (of work) was really rough. I had two good innings after that,” he said.
The Braves won the National League East title last season and were 4 1/2 games ahead of second-place Philadelphia going into Wednesday’s game in Georgia.
“We have a very, very balanced offense,” Tomlin said. “That is what is special about this lineup — they don’t give away at-bats.”
The move to the Braves has also aided family life.
His wife, Carlie, grew up near Augusta, Georgia — about 150 miles from Atlanta. The couple, who have two daughters, called Cleveland home for a long time but are now enjoying the summer in Georgia.
“It has been a blessing,” Tomlin said of his new team.
David Driver is a freelance writer in Maryland and can be reached at davidsdriver.com and @Day tonVaDriver.