CLEVELAND -- Josh Tomlin is the first to admit that he does not boast the overpowering stuff that some other big league pitchers possess. The young Indians starter relies on finesse and unpredictability.
It helps that Tomlin rarely seems intimidated, too.
On Tuesday night, Tomlin took the mound at Progressive Field and made quick work of a well-paid and much-hyped Red Sox offense. With an array of dancing darts, the right-hander kept Boston's hitters guessing, helping guide the Indians to a 3-1 victory in the opener of a three-game set.
Against Boston, Tomlin nearly put up an identical line as his Major League debut last July, when he held the then-reigning World Series champion Yankees to one run over seven innings. He did the same this time around against the Red Sox -- a favorite in many of this year's preseason predictions -- for an impressive season debut.
Tomlin might as well have yawned when asked how he has been able to look unimpressed by such highly-touted lineups.
"That's just kind of how I've been my entire life," Tomlin said. "I'm not really scared of the competition. I feel like if I go out there and do what I'm supposed to do, then it should work regardless. That's just how I was raised."
Tomlin was not raised to throw a 100-mph heater.
If the radar gun registers one of his fastballs at 90 mph, Tomlin is really bringing it that night. What the 6-foot-1, 190-pound righty does is fire off an assortment of offerings -- a changeup that tails away from left-handed hitters, a cutter and slider that break in the opposite direction and a curve that keeps hitters honest.
Tomlin does all he can to mix things up, too.
"I try to pitch them all a little different," Tomlin said. "I try to keep a different sequence to everybody, because those guys can hurt you in a hurry. I'm always trying to keep them off-balance."
Tomlin, who won the Tribe's fourth-starter job with a strong showing in Spring Training, did that well on Tuesday and gave Boston's hitters fits.
"He kept me off-balance pretty good," said Red Sox left fielder Carl Crawford, who was Boston's marquee free-agent signing over the winter. "He used all his pitches. He did a good job mixing them up -- never repeating. He did a good job tonight."
Tomlin walked three in his seven innings for the Indians (2-2), and, sure enough, one of those free passes came back to bite him.
In the second inning, Tomlin forced slugger David Ortiz into an 0-2 count before misfiring with four balls to send Big Papi jogging down to first base. Two batters later, Jarrod Saltalamacchia made Tomlin pay with an RBI single to right field to put the Red Sox ahead, 1-0.
Boston (0-4), which is off to its worst start since opening the 1996 tour with an 0-5 ledger, was tamed the rest of the way by Tomlin. The right-hander struck out three, induced 12 outs via ground balls and limited the left-handed Red Sox hitters to a 2-for-15 showing at the plate.
This was against a starting lineup earning a combined $71.65 million this season.
Not bad for a pitcher making the league minimum.
"Josh Tomlin was fantastic," manager Manny Acta said. "He was just fantastic. He kept those lefties off-balance the whole night with his four-pitch repertoire -- good changeup, ood overhand curve and he spotted his cutter very well.
"Against a lineup like that, I think he deserves all the credit."
Of course, some timely hitting against Red Sox starter Josh Beckett helped.
In the fourth inning, Cleveland designated hitter Travis Hafner got things rolling by drilling a pitch from Beckett off the wall in right-center field for a one-out double. The laser shot came a few feet shy of a solo blast.
"My God. Only that wall could stop that ball," Acta said. "That ball was hit with a 2-iron. It was a hard-hit ball -- one of the hardest hit balls I've seen this year."
Indians second baseman Orlando Cabrera followed by sending a pitch from Beckett over the glove of a leaping Marco Scutaro at shortstop. The baseball fell into left field for a single, allowing Hafner to score to pull the game into a 1-1 deadlock. Jack Hannahan later added an RBI single to put the Tribe ahead for good, 2-1.
Beckett bowed out of the contest after allowing three runs over five innings. That was sufficient damage for Tomlin to walk away the winner. Before that could happen, however, setup man Tony Sipp and closer Chris Perez needed to hold Boston's lineup in check over the final two frames.
Sipp's eighth-inning showing was clean. Perez had a little more trouble.
Dustin Pedroia singled to left field off Perez with one out, and the Indians' stopper later issued a two-out walk to Kevin Youkilis. That put two runners aboard for David Ortiz, who quickly watched two pitches to work into a 2-0 count. At that point, Perez was ready to walk Ortiz for a chance at facing J.D. Drew.
"I was thinking about it, after I fell behind 2-0, just put him on," Perez said. "I'd rather face Drew anyway. I think my stuff matches up better against Drew."
Acta jogged to the mound and had another idea.
"He wanted me to attack Ortiz," Perez said.
Perez listened to his manager, and three pitches later, Indians left fielder Austin Kearns caught a fly ball off the bat of Ortiz for the game's final out. Perez notched his first save of the 2011 season.
"It worked," Perez said. "Give an assist to Manny."
And give all the credit to Tomlin.
"Tomlin pitched a great game," Perez said. "To take the first one in this series is huge."