CLEVELAND: What’s left to try when Justin Masterson can’t stop the Indians’ skid?
Masterson snapped the Tribe’s past three losing streaks — nine games, 11 games and four games — and took the mound Thursday in a vain effort to do it again. Instead, he got clobbered by the Oakland Athletics, who left town with an 12-7 win and a four-game sweep at Progressive Field.
The Tribe’s latest losing streak has reached five, but the question is whether it will have to reach nine before Masterson’s turn comes around again?
Manager Manny Acta stressed that stopping losing streaks does not fall exclusively on Masterson’s broad shoulders, nor anyone else’s.
“We have made it clear that they [each player] have to take care of their own business,” Acta said. “We’re not asking anyone to stop a streak. I don’t see that as an issue.”
Unfortunately for the Woeful Wahoos, Masterson was hardly on his game against the A’s. He did not give up a run until the third, when Coco Crisp unloaded on an 0-and-1 pitch for his ninth home run of the season. Crisp is hardly anyone’s idea of the prototype power hitter, so maybe that should have been a clue of what was to come.
And what was that? A Masterson meltdown in the fourth inning. A single and two walks loaded the bases with two outs, and it took awhile for Masterson to get No. 3.
George Kottaras smoked a bases-clearing double to right, and Cliff Pennington followed with a two-run homer. The five-run inning set the tone not only for Masterson, but also for those who followed him.
The fact that Masterson (10-12, 4.91 ERA) couldn’t handle a .156 hitter (Kottaras) and a .194 hitter (Pennington) — the eighth and ninth batters in the lineup — was not a good sign. He also gave equal time to the top half of the order the next inning, giving up a single to Stephen Drew and Josh Reddick’s 27th home run of the year.
“Overall, Justin just didn’t have it,” Acta said. “He pitched from behind in the count, and he gave up a couple of walks that hurt him.”
Masterson failed to retire a batter in the fifth, allowing an infield hit following Reddick’s blast. He was charged with eight runs on eight hits and two walks, continuing on the erratic path he has followed all season.
Masterson has been a picture of inconsistency the entire season.
“Without a doubt, I’m as perplexed as anybody,” he said.
Acta had a more of a clue.
“It’s been basically his command,” Acta said. “Sometimes he loses his release point. There’s a lot of movement in his delivery. But he’s still been a warrior for us.”
Added pitching coach Ruben Niebla, “We talk a lot about him keeping his hips behind his shoulders.”
Masterson came into the game with a 1-4 record and 6.89 ERA against the A’s, and it didn’t get any better.
“They must have been talking to Tampa Bay,” he said. “Honestly, I don’t know. It’s crazy.”
Masterson’s career record against the Rays is 1-7 with a 7.74 ERA.
Not that Masterson was the only pitcher who struggled Thursday. Chris Seddon relieved Masterson and gave up two runs in two innings, then Tony Sipp got a chance to steady the ship to start the seventh but walked four of the six batters he faced.
The Indians hadn’t scored as many as seven runs since they scored 10 against the Rays 40 games ago, during the glory days of mid-July when they were still in contention to make the playoffs.
When Jason Kipnis led off the first inning with his 13th home run the year, the offense seemed to offer the hope it might trigger an end to the losing streak. In the end, it couldn’t keep up with the bad pitching.
The Indians were already trailing 8-2 when they came to the plate in the fifth, so it was a constant uphill climb. But the Tribe cut the deficit to four runs in the seventh on two walks and Lou Marson’s bloop double to right.
Kipnis had two of his team’s 10 hits, including a double to go with the home run. Ezequiel Carrera and Jack Hannahan had two hits.
Niebla, the interim pitching coach who took over for the ousted Scott Radinsky, was thrown out of a big-league game for the first time, when he disputed umpire Paul Emmel’s version of the strike zone with Sipp on the mound.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at https://ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.