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It's happened again. I've been hurt, scorned, lied to, wronged, and let down before. And, yet, I come back. The pain is evident in my eyes, but Brett Tomko knows how to weasel his way around that. "C'mon, baby. Things'll be different this time, I promise. Those games where I gave up seven earned; they didn't mean anything, baby."

I'll get burned again, and I'll feel like an idiot again. But I want Tomko to be the fifth starter on this team. The eternal promise of his stuff will always be there. It's the kind of stuff that should unfurl from a centerfold pictorial in the middle of a Sports Illustrated, both to confuse and titillate pubescent baseball fans around the world. Oh, that nasty, nasty stuff. How could I stay mad at you?

That's only part of the reason to bring him back. It's the late-season surge two years in a row that really gets me. Yes, the Nationals are an offensive team that could feature Deivi Cruz in the cleanup spot, so we shouldn't name a constellation after Tomko just yet. However, his quality outings have been frequent, and appreciated, during this last gasp surge of the Giants. You can't just ignore the ineffectiveness of the early part of the year, but maybe our expectations were too high.

There was hope the end of 2004 gave us a glimpse of an above-average third starter. When Tomko started getting shelled, those who believed felt like fools. Maybe instead of expecting him to be leagues above his career value, where he was in the second half of '04, the expectation should have been for him to show a slight improvement and become a league-average starter. He's right around that average now.

In alt.sports.baseball.sf-giants discussion years ago, Julian Tavarez was a popular topic. There were two camps; one camp was mesmerized by the darting sinker of Tavarez, and another was tired of the unimpressive results he kept putting up as a Giant. The effective end of the argument came one day when a poster wrote about Tavarez's great stuff, and said we need to give him every chance we can. The anti-Tavarez poster replied with "Fudge stuff", only "fudge" wasn't the exact word used for emphasis. That was it. Debate over...almost. Several years later, Tavarez started to become an incredibly valuable reliever.

Tomko is in the same area Tavarez was. At some point, you have to toss the perceived talent out the window, and look at what he's done. If his stuff is so dirty, where are the strikeouts? This isn't like Kirk Rueter, where you'd ask the same question only if you assumed one out of nine batters approached the plate with their bat clenched between their teeth. Tomko gives up hits, homers, and doesn't whiff a whole heck of a lot. If he does become a consistently solid starter, it might be in the form of a graying Tomko six years from now. You obviously don't sign him to a six-year deal under the auspices of potential improvement.

This is where the proper expectations come in. As a fifth starter - the guy who will give you the occasional gem and not completely burn your bullpen - Tomko is perfectly acceptable. Desirable, even. You could fill the last slot with a grizzled vet with no chance to be more than acceptable, or you could hope for Tomko to be acceptable, and keep the idea he could do more in the back of your mind. This assumes the Giants sign or trade for a pitcher expected to be better than Tomko. With Jason Schmidt, Noah Lowry, and Matt Cain, a free agent signing would allow Tomko to be the faceless guy at the back of the rotation. Brad Hennessey could be traded for power, or just kept in Fresno next to the canned goods.

I can't believe I'm admitting all this. My family and friends don't know why I keep coming back to Tomko. Maybe a support group would help. Some counseling, perhaps. He said things would be different this time.