CLEVELAND: Sunday’s temperature was a spring-like 76 with a slight breeze from the north. Except for overcast skies, it was an ideal day for training camp baseball.
To be sure, the Rangers were playing for real. They are trying to maintain a lead over the Athletics in the Western Division. But the Indians, who lost 8-3 at Progressive Field, are as relevant to the American League standings as Manchester United and Kenmore High School.
So the regular season has morphed into spring training for the Woeful Wahoos. You can never start spring training too early if your record is 56-78.
The Indians’ lineup looked a little peculiar. Missing were Shin-Soo Choo, Michael Brantley, Casey Kotchman and Asdrubal Cabrera, who was out for his second consecutive start with a sore wrist.
In their places were rookies Russ Canzler and Thomas Neal, Matt LaPorta and Brent Lillibridge at short.
Neal delivered his first major-league hit, a well-struck double in the eighth inning, and Canzler doubled off the fence in the third, his third hit in eight at-bats since being recalled from Columbus Saturday.
“I think I was more nervous in my first at-bat,’’ Neal said. “After that, I was out there competing.’’
As is customary, someone retrieved the ball that he hit for the double.
“I also got two other balls from the game,’’ Neal said. “I’ll probably give those to my parents. I’ll probably give the first-hit ball to my mother. Without her, I wouldn’t be here.’’
Carlos Santana whacked a two-run homer in the third inning after Jason Kipnis reached on an infield single. Santana also doubled and scored the Tribe’s last run in the eighth on Neal’s double.
But losing by five means there were at least a few negative performances, or at least one big one. In this case, there was one primary problem: Zach McAllister gave up seven runs, 11 hits and two walks in five innings.
Moreover, four of the hits were home runs, which put McAllister into milestone territory. He became the first Cleveland pitcher to give up four homers in consecutive games since July 22 and 27, 2009, when Carl Pavano did it in starts against the Blue Jays and Angels.
Anyone waiting for a highly technical explanation for McAllister’s failure was in for a disappointment.
“Zach didn’t have very good stuff,’’ manager Manny Acta said. “His velocity was down and his breaking ball wasn’t good. And Texas is not the team you don’t want to have your good stuff against.’’
How good are the Rangers? In Acta’s opinion, the best. Their lineup is particularly potent from top to bottom.
“They are probably the best team, period,’’ Acta said. “The guy batting ninth could bat in the middle of some lineups. … They should go deep in the playoffs if not go back to the World Series.’’
McAllister (5-6, 4.36 ERA) was glum in the wake of his bad day on the mound.
“Overall, I didn’t have good stuff,’’ he said. “I’m just not pitching well. I don’t think it has anything to do with the length of the season. I’ve pitched in September before.’’
But not often. In his rookie season of 2011, McAllister made two starts in September.
He was the Indians’ most consistent starter in his first 10 games, following a call-up from Columbus in May. But only two of his past seven starts have been effective: Aug. 11, when he gave up two runs in eight innings against the Red Sox, and Aug. 22, when he gave up one run in six innings against the Mariners.
Even including his two good starts, he is 1-4 with a 6.08 earned-run average in those seven outings.
“I felt good mechanically,’’ McAllister said. “Some days you just don’t have your best stuff, and you have to battle.’’
Acta doesn’t think fatigue had anything to do with McAllister’s dip in velocity.
“It happens with human beings,’’ the manager said. “Sometimes guys just don’t have it. He’s not the only one who once in awhile doesn’t have the same velocity. He just had a bad day. Innings-wise, we checked, and he’s OK.
“In back-to-back outings, he was kind of one pitch away from getting out of trouble several times, and he just didn’t. Zach is still a work in progress.’’
Sunday’s hotshot was Rangers prospect Jurickson Profar, who made his major-league debut by hitting a home run and a double.
Profar went deep to lead off the Rangers’ four-run third and in the fifth Josh Hamilton led off with a home run, Adrian Beltre homered four pitches later and with one out, David Murphy went deep on the first pitch.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.