Tomko looks like old self

Tomko looks like old self

KANSAS CITY -- Brett Tomko watched a Padres pitcher toss sliders and split-fingers with authority last week.

The sight didn't look familiar, given Tomko's recent struggles, but it actually was him -- old video footage from last season.

In Monday night's 4-0 loss to the Angels, the Tomko from the tape showed up. He allowed just two hits in seven shutout innings and threw like an entirely different pitcher than the one who'd gotten rocked in his last three outings.

"It's disappointing that we didn't win the game," Tomko said, "but I had some stuff that I needed to get done quickly on a personal level."

Mainly, get better at pitching. Even at the beginning of the season, Tomko just didn't feel right on the mound. He allowed only two runs in his first two starts, but something was missing. It only got worse during his last three outings, when he gave up five or more runs each start.

So, after giving up five runs in 3 1/3 innings against Texas last week, he called the video man for the Padres. Tomko wanted to see what he did right in the final month of the season last year. During that period, Tomko went 2-1 with a 4.61 ERA, and he recorded 26 strikeouts for a team that was in a playoff race.

He watched the tape for hours.

"You watch yourself so much," Tomko said, "you see things."

The first thing Tomko noticed was the way he threw his split-finger and slider. With the Padres last September, he struck batters out with those offspeed pitches. This season, he thought he hadn't been aggressive enough.

That changed during his last two bullpen sessions. Tomko started to use a slower windup and threw his slider and split-finger more often.

"I felt it in my bullpen sessions," he said. "This is the way I should pitch. This is how I felt last year."

His good vibes from the bullpen more than carried into Monday night's game. Not once did the Angels get more than one runner on base in any of the seven innings Tomko pitched.

His offspeed pitches worked as well. Tomko said he used them as aggressively as he did last year, which helped him total seven strikeouts. He lowered his ERA from 6.26 to 4.98.

"I felt more like I was in command of the game," Tomko said, "like I was dictating the tempo."

That news might be even better for the Royals. If Tomko can pitch as well as he did Monday, Kansas City could have five starters capable of shutting a team down. Zack Greinke and Brian Bannister already have proven themselves as solid pitchers during the first month of the season. Gil Meche and Luke Hochevar each have allowed three runs or fewer in their last two outings.

Add a consistent Tomko to those four, and the Royals' starting rotation would compare with some of the best teams in the American League.

"I think we have proven in the past that we can go out there and have an above-average ERA in this league," Bannister said. "And if you have five guys who can do that, you're gonna be successful."

Mark Dent is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.