Sheldon Ocker

CLEVELAND: Despite bad base running, another error and missed opportunities at the plate, the Indians prevailed over the Cincinnati Reds 5-2 Wednesday night at Progressive Field, breaking a five-game losing streak.

In case this isn’t making sense, keep in mind one thing: It’s the pitching, stupid.

Justin Masterson made a strong case for Comeback Player of the Past Five Days, and the bullpen resembled the “old” Tribe relief corps, before Chris Perez got hurt last weekend in Boston.

“Through this tough week, I’ve learned to have more appreciation for this club,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I think we’re getting better. We just had a tough week.”

The Indians’ attack seems to be at its best when they have their home run swing in gear. Mark Reynolds gave the Tribe its first run when he went deep for the 13th time this year, leading off the third inning, and Jason Giambi finished off the Reds with a three-run blast in the sixth.

“He saw so many pitches, it put him in a good spot,” Francona said. “And when G does something, everybody in there [dugout] goes crazy.”

Giambi has been the focal point of the team since spring training, and never mind that he plays only two or three times a week.

“It’s hard for anybody outside this clubhouse to know how much we enjoy him,” Masterson said.

Of Reds starter Bronson Arroyo, Giambi said: “You can’t look for anything, because he can throw everything for a strike. So you also can’t really have a game plan.”

Giambi has been troubled recently by a pinched nerve in his neck.

“The weather starting to get warmer helped it,” he said. “It seemed like every time we played [before that], I couldn’t feel my face.”

Seven of the first 12 batters who faced Masterson struck out. Joey Votto was No. 7 on the strikeout list, but he also homered in the first inning to put the only stain on Masterson’s outing.

Masterson (8-3, 3.07 ERA) and his teammates collaborated to make his life miserable in the sixth, but the inning didn’t get so bad that he actually allowed a run.

Brandon Phillips slapped at a pitch and hit the plate, the ball bouncing high in the air. By the time it came down into Asdrubal Cabrera’s glove, it was too late to throw Phillips out. Nick Swisher’s error on a ground ball down the first-base line put runners on first and second, and Masterson hit Todd Frazier with a pitch to load the bases.

But Xavier Paul bounced to Masterson, who threw home to start a 1-2-3 double play, leaving runners on second and third. The inning ended when Ryan Hanigan flied to left.

Masterson allowed one run, four hits and four walks, throwing 105 pitches in six innings.

“Whether we win, lose or draw, it’s nice to send him out there; he’s such a good pitcher,” Francona said. “And he’s so consistent.”

The Indians botched a fourth-inning rally so badly, they turned three consecutive doubles plus a walk into two outs and only one run. How can that happen?

Cabrera doubled with one out and scored easily on Swisher’s double. That’s what is supposed to happen when two players in a row drive doubles to the deep parts of the outfield.

But Giambi followed with a double, and somehow Swisher was thrown out at the plate for the second out of the inning. The inning ended when Giambi was thrown out trying to steal third, as Carlos Santana walked.

“I saw [third baseman] Frazier way over there [away from the base], and I overestimated my speed,” Giambi said. “I wanted to make sure I could score on a single and thought I needed to be at third. But it all kind of backfired.”

Maybe that’s what prompted Giambi to take matters into his own hands in the sixth, when the Tribe strung together four hits after two were out.

Cabrera and Swisher lined singles to right and Giambi drove a ball over the right-field wall for his fourth home run of the season to give the Indians a 5-1 advantage. Before starter Arroyo (5-5, 3.75 ERA) got the last out, Santana singled.

Does that inning signal that the Tribe’s mini-slump is over? Not necessarily. In addition to bungling the rally in the fourth inning, the Indians loaded the bases with one out in the seventh and got nothing.

After Masterson left, Cody Allen and Joe Smith each threw a scoreless inning, then it was Vinnie Pestano’s turn in the ninth, acting as temporary closer. Pestano gave up a home run to Paul leading off the inning but retired the side without incident after that.

Sheldon Ocker can be reached at socker@thebeaconjournal.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.