HOUSTON: That’s 11 runs in the past five games for the Indians. It’s no coincidence that the Tribe has lost all five, including a 3-2 decision to the Astros Friday night at Minute Maid Park.
It also didn’t help that Brett Myers gave up two more home runs, but Myers was not really the problem.
“We had opportunities,” manager Terry Francona said. “Guys try too hard sometimes. But we had chances to win the game because of our pitching.”
The Tribe bullpen contributed three scoreless innings, and Myers is giving up fewer hits between home runs. He has yielded 10 homers in 21⅓ innings, but otherwise made it through five innings relatively unscathed.
Myers gave it up in the second, when he walked Carlos Pena with one out and J.D. Martinez lifted a long fly over the wall in right to account for the first two runs of the game. The next batter, Rick Ankiel, also drove a ball over the right-field fence to give the Astros a 3-0 advantage.
Maybe it was good strategy by Myers to give up consecutive home runs. That way the second homer could only add one run to the Astros’ total.
“In the second inning the balls were real slick,” Myers said. “But that’s no excuse. It did make me fall behind guys. After the second, I could feel the baseballs a lot better and I got more confident.”
Francona noticed that Myers was throwing some 86 mph fastballs and thought he might be hurt, so he and head trainer Lonnie Soloff went to the mound in the fifth inning.
“His velocity was down tonight, especially, so he had less room for error,” the manager said. “I wanted to make sure it was not something physical.”
Myers said he is pitching with at least a slight injury.
“I’ve been feeling some tendinitis in my flexor tendon,” he said, referring to his forearm. “When they came out, they wanted to check, because my velocity was down. But I don’t feel anything, and you still have to go out and compete.”
Myers said the tendinitis has lingered since spring training, and that he receives treatment for the condition.
Aside from the second inning, Myers (0-3, 8.02 ERA) pitched a pretty clean five innings. He walked a batter with two outs in the third, gave up a leadoff single to Brandon Barnes in the fourth and Jose Altuve singled to start the fifth.
Not that Francona was going to trust Myers to get through the sixth. Even though Myers had thrown only 76 pitches, Francona was not going to press his luck.
Tribe pitchers have done a lot worse than give up three runs in five innings, but Myers has been so vulnerable to the home run, it’s difficult to leave him out there in the late innings of close games.
Then again, if a starter goes five innings or less routinely, it puts too much pressure on the bullpen. On this night, however, Tribe relievers were on their game.
Cody Allen relieved Myers and worked 1⅔ innings, giving up a bunt single and a walk but striking out three. Rich Hill retired the final batter in the seventh, and Joe Smith retired the side in order in the eighth.
Coming into the series in Houston, the Tribe had scored no more than three runs in each of the past four games. That probably buoyed the spirits of Astros starter Lucas Harrell, who gave up two runs, five hits and four walks in 5⅔ innings.
The only hit that hurt him was Lonnie Chisenhall’s two-run homer in the fourth inning, following a two-out walk to Mark Reynolds. Francona has talked about the necessity of producing timely two-out hits when much of the team is in a slump. Chisenhall got one.
During Harrell’s tenure on the mound, the Indians’ problem was keeping rallies going with one out or less.
After Michael Brantley grounded out to lead off the third, Jason Kipnis singled and Asdrubal Cabrera walked, but Nick Swisher grounded into a double play.
In case you missed it the first time, the Tribe reprised the little drama in the fifth when Brantley and Kipnis walked to start the inning, and Cabrera bounced into a double play.
If practice makes perfect, it’s time for Indians batsmen to make an instructional video on the fine art of killing rallies with double-play balls. Swisher started the eighth (against former Tribe reliever Hector Ambriz) by lining a double to center. One out later, Carlos Santana walked, but Reynolds slapped a one-hopper to Ambriz, who turned it into a double play.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.