By Stephanie Storm
Beacon Journal sports writer
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SEATTLE: The Indians might be stumbling to find their post All-Star break footing early in the second half of the season, but blame for their 1-3 start cannot be placed on the team’s usually vulnerable pitching staff.
The Tribe’s hurlers, especially the starters, have done the job and then some over the last two weeks. Monday’s 2-1 loss to the Mariners marked the Indians first loss for a starting pitcher since Carlos Carrasco’s disastrous outing July 6 in which he gave up seven runs and lost 9-4 to the division-leading Detroit Tigers.
Since then, Indians starters are 5-1 with a 1.99 ERA, having limited opposing batters to 16 earned runs over 72⅓ innings over the last 12 games.
Even Ubalado Jimenez, who always seems to be tip-toeing the line between success and failure in a nightly high-wire act, gave up just two solo homers in Monday’s loss.
“A lot of times you’ll look up and say, ‘OK, we’ll take two,’ ’’ Indians manager Terry Francona said of Jimenez, who is 4-2 with a 2.11 ERA over his last 11 starts, having held opponents to three or less runs in eight of those starts.
Clearly, pitching is not the issue in the Tribe’s recent skid.
“Our pitching is doing excellent,” Tribe center fielder Michael Bourn said. “They’re holding us down. We’re just [not] scoring enough runs, simple as that. I mean [Monday’s starter] Ubaldo [Jimenez], gave up the most earned runs – two – since the second half started.
“You can’t ask for no more than that. Offensively we’ve got to pick it up. Not press, just be focused. It’s no coach’s fault, no manager’s fault, no hitting coach’s fault, it’s just us on the offensive side.”
Despite being a small sample so far, Indians fans are already trying to ward off the feelings that have crept in the last few years when the Tribe’s good starts have slipped away into forgettable second-half slumps that obliterate any chance of postseason play.
It’s not just fans that are antsy for wins to keep the possibility of making the postseason for the first time since 2007. The Indians players are feeling the heat to emerge victorious in winnable games, such as the first four they’ve played coming out of last week’s All-Star break.
“We’ve kind of jumped out to a slow start here, but every game we’ve been in it,” first baseman Nick Swisher said. “It’s not like they’ve been blowouts. We lost two games in Minnesota by one run, lost another one-run game [Monday in Seattle].
“That’s not us, we win those type of games. We’ve just got to score more runs. Our pitching staff has done a great job keeping us in the ballgame. It’s our job [as hitters] to put some more runs on the board.”
Possibly the Tribe is not bearing down on every at bat, every pitch like you see in the postseason.
“We’re giving it a good effort, but we feel like we’re better than this,” Bourn said. “We’re not going to panic, but we’re going to give it a good run at this during the second half. In the past they say [the Indians] have fallen apart in the second half. I’m trying to not let that happen.”
While the players recognize the importance of not letting too many games slip away early in the second half, Francona is remaining even-keeled about his streaky squad’s slow start to the second half.
“We’re not rolling, but our pitching is thankfully keeping us in games,” he said. “If our pitchers keeps pitching like this, we’re going to be just fine. We just gotta keep plugging away.”
Perhaps with an even greater focus on details.
“These games from here on out, they count,” Bourn said. “Ain’t no way around it. Sometimes you make mistakes, but we have to be able to press for nine innings. We can’t think that we score one or two runs, it’s over with. We gotta press and stay strong for nine innings. If we go into extra innings, then that, too. That’s the way the second half is played and how good teams get into the playoffs.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Aeros blog at http://www.ohio.com/aeros. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/sports.abj.