Originally posted on Fox Sports Ohio  |  Last updated 3/17/12
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Tomko family owns a legacy in Cleveland that has nothing to do with Cincinnati Reds pitcher Brett Tomko, nor does it have anything to do with baseball. It is all about basketball -- the NBA, the Cleveland Cavaliers. When Tomko's father, Jerry, was 29 he entered a contest to provide a nickname for the new NBA franchise in Cleveland. "He not only entered the name Cavaliers with an essay, he drew a logo," said Brett Tomko. "There were 1,800 entries and he won. They not only used his name, Cavaliers, they used the logo he drew, a swash-buckling cavalier." Jerry Tomko grew up in Cleveland Heights and attended Cleveland St. Joseph High School and stayed in town until his son, Brett, was three. "We moved to Los Angeles and I'm a huge Lakers fan, but I still have a small soft spot in my heart for the Cavaliers," said Brett. He has a big soft spot in his heart for the Cincinnati Reds, the team that drafted him in the second round in 1995. Since then, it has been a long and winding road for 14 years. Ten teams. Twelve different uniform numbers. More managers and teammates than he can possibly remember. And now it has come full circle. Tomko, at 39, is back with the Reds, trying to make it into an already overstuffed pitching rotation. That doesn't faze him. On Friday night, Tomko pitched three perfect innings, nine Colorado Rockies up, nine Colorado Rockies down. It certainly caught the eye of manager Dusty Baker. "He threw the ball well, especially first-pitch breaking balls for strikes," said Baker. "That's big. You get a little cheap strike zone and it doesn't seem like much, but you change the equation of the whole at-bat. Most guys don't like to swing at first-pitch breaking balls. You see 'em taking all the time." What Tomko appears to be for the Reds right now is Progressvie or All-State or State Farm or Geico -- a human insurance policy. The rotation is fully filled for now, but Baker constantly harkens back to last season when toward the end of spring training he lost two starters, Johnny Cueto and Homer Bailey. "And Tomko is coming back from some arm stuff that caused him to miss all of 2010," said Baker. "He was pretty happy Saturday morning after his Friday night. And I'm happy for him." Tomko realizes there is no room at the inn right now and that there is a solid chance that if he wants to stay with the Reds he'll have to begin the season at Class AAA Louisville. No problem. No arguments from Tomko. He is copacetic with that. "I told them that coming into spring training -- that if they wanted me as an insurance policy at Triple-A, I'm willing. But I'm still trying to make this team, make it for Opening Day, and I'm going to make it as difficult a choice for them as I can. I was the last cut in Texas last year." Tomko knew the nearly insurmountable odds of making the Reds rotation this year, but he planned ahead. "I had to take a different approach coming into this spring," he said. "I came in as ready as I've ever been. I don't have the luxury that I used to have seven or eight years ago when I could say, 'OK, today I'm going to work on my change-up,' and throw a bunch of 'em. "I mean, I'm pitching right now the way I would during the season, like it is June or July, because I'm trying to get my point across that I'm ready to go, that I'm healthy, that I can still pitch," he said. "I started to throw a lot earlier this winter than I normally do, just to be prepared." Since the first inning he pitched this spring in Peoria against Seattle, things have gone swimmingly for the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder who left the Reds before the 2000 season in a deal that sent him to the Seattle Mariners as part of a package for Ken Griffey Jr. "Besides that little first inning in Peoria, I've been pretty pleased with everything," he said, referring to a day during which swirling winds made it a tough day on pitchers. Mix in some seeing-eye ground balls on the macadam-hard infield and an error or two and it made for a disastrous first inning. "That was kind of a weird day, a bunch of weird things, but I took it for what it was worth -- first time out," he said. "It's Arizona. Weird things happen in Arizona." Tomko missed all of 2010 with a rare nerve problem in his right arm that made it so he could hardly pick up a spoon full of cereal or a ballpoint pen. He is, he says, beyond that and he hopes he is close to where he was before the injury, "When I was throwing the best I have ever thrown." And he says, "In terms of the nerve injury, I no longer worry about it any more. I dealt with it a little bit of it pitching for Texas last year, but now I don't even think about it. I don't notice anything." Dusty Baker noticed something, though. The guy can still pitch.
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