In a pitching matchup that is common in many major league games in September, two relief pitchers will start Thursday night as the Cleveland Indians and Kansas City Royals play the opener of a regular season-ending four-game series at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.
Cleveland’s Josh Tomlin (2-5, 6.44 ERA) will face Kansas City’s Glenn Sparkman (0-3, 4.86). The two American League Central Division teams are a study in extremes. The Indians (89-69) have won the division for the third consecutive year while the Royals (56-102) are in last place.
Tomlin, 33, made six early-season starts before being moved to the bullpen. In 23 relief appearances, he is 2-2 with a 4.55 ERA. In eight starts, he is 0-3, 7.82.
Tomlin’s last appearance was a relief stint against Boston on Sunday in which he pitched two scoreless innings, allowing one hit and picking up the win in a 4-3 Cleveland victory.
His last start came Sept. 20, against the White Sox when he got a no-decision in a 5-4 Indians loss. In that game, Tomlin pitched four innings, allowing four runs and eight hits, with two strikeouts and no walks.
Tomlin’s only appearance against the Royals this year was as a reliever Aug. 25, when he pitched one inning, giving up one run and three hits, with no strikeouts and no walks.
The last time Tomlin started a game against the Royals was Sept. 14, 2017, when he got a no-decision in a 3-2 Indians win. In that game he pitched 5 2/3 innings, allowing two runs and six hits, with four strikeouts and one walk.
In 26 career appearances (21 starts) against Kansas City, Tomlin is 10-5 with a 3.93 ERA.
Sparkman is at the other end of the career spectrum from Tomlin, who during his nine-year career has appeared in 182 major league games. The 26-year-old Sparkman has appeared in 16 major league games, mostly as a reliever.
In 12 relief appearances for the Royals this year he is 0-2 with a 4.62 ERA. He has made two starts and is 0-1, 5.63. His last appearance came as a reliever in an 11-8 Royals’ loss to Detroit in which he received no decision. He pitched four innings, allowing two runs and five hits.
Sparkman’s last start was a 4-1 loss to Tampa Bay on Aug. 21. He pitched four innings, giving up three runs and seven hits, with five strikeouts and three walks.
Thursday will be his first career appearance against Cleveland.
A big challenge for Sparkman will be Cleveland designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion, who after hitting 38 home runs with 107 RBIs last year in his first season with Cleveland, has hit 32 homers with 105 RBIs this year. Encarnacion has driven in at least 100 runs in six of the last seven years, including the last four years in a row.
“As long as he stays healthy, you can pencil him in for 100 every year,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “That’s nice to know, at the start of the season, that you’re going get 100 RBIs out of him.”
Cleveland leads the season series 10-5.