He was the one guy the Indians had hoped to avoid over the next three days.
So wasn’t it just the struggling Tribe’s luck — or lack of luck — that they’d end up facing former teammate Joe Smith on Monday in the first game of a three-game series at Angels Stadium?
Count it further bad luck that not only did the Indians face their former reliever and the newly-minted Angels closer, but his first save in Anaheim came against them in the host’s 6-3 victory.
“I used to pull for him a lot,” Indians manager Terry Francona deadpanned. “I don’t anymore.”
That’s not at all true, as Francona waxed poetic plenty before the series began about his former eight-inning setup man who signed a three-year, $15.75 million deal as a free agent after spending five seasons with the Tribe. Still, Francona can be excused for his less-than-enthusiastic endorsement just minutes after the Angels sent his error-prone team to its fourth consecutive defeat.
About the only positive thing for Francona to discuss after the Indians blew an early 3-1 lead was the way designated hitter Carlos Santana swung the bat.
The Tribe’s embattled cleanup hitter snapped an 0-for-12 skid with a 2-for-4 effort Monday — including a fourth-inning home run that gave his team a two-run advantage. But Santana’s three-run homer was the only significant offense the ailing Indians bats could muster.
The Angels jumped ahead 1-0 in the first inning on Mike Trout’s triple followed by Albert Pujols’ run-scoring infield groundout. An inning after the Indians pulled ahead, the Angels came right back to tie the game 3-3 on Erick Aybar’s two-run double in the fifth inning.
Starting pitchers Justin Masterson and Tyler Skaggs settled down for a couple of innings before the Angels tagged Masterson for three runs in the eighth inning. Figuring his starter wasn’t laboring, Francona sent Masterson back out to face the Angles in the eighth. But the big right-hander lasted only 1/3 of an inning before a costly error opened the door and the Angels’ explosive offense took over.
The Angels’ No. 9 hitter, J.B. Shuck, reached safely when first baseman Nick Swisher’s bobbled a grounder. Aybar sacrificed Shuck into scoring position. Smelling blood, Trout lined a Masterson pitch just beyond the outstretched glove of a diving Lonnie Chisenhall at third to score Shuck from second.
The Angels added a pair of insurance runs on Raul Ibanez’s triple that chased Masterson from the mound. In 7 1/3 innings, Masterson gave up six runs (five earned) on seven hits and two walks. He struck out five.
“We made some decent pitches,” Masterson said. “Trout got out front of a slider and was able to take it just past the outstretched arms of a diving Lonnie. Then we get Ibanez up there and had success (earlier in the game) with him. I left a sinker up in the zone ever so slightly, but he went down and got it. He made a good swing at a pretty good pitch and was able to make it happen.”
Meanwhile Skaggs limited the Tribe to three runs on four hits and a walk, striking out six over seven innings. But the young left-hander left the game with it tied 3-3 and didn’t figure into the decision. Reliever Fernando Salas improved to 2-0 with a hitless inning.
After the game, Francona confirmed that struggling starting pitcher Carlos Carrasco has been moved to the bullpen. The right-hander went 0-3 with a 6.95 ERA in four starts.
“I just think that for our team, for him, we have a chance to try to give him some more confidence,” Francona said. “And at the same time win us some games and fortify the bullpen.”
After his last outing over the weekend in the Tribe’s three-game sweep by the host San Francisco Giants, Carrasco felt his velocity had decreased while utilizing a revamped delivery that the Indians had spent all offseason working with him on. The next day, Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway sat down with Carrasco to show him that wasn’t the case.
While Carrasco tries to figure out his issues in the bullpen, Zach McAllister is now scheduled to start the final game of the six-game road trip Wednesday on short rest.