CLEVELAND: Psst! Pass it on. The way to beat the Indians is to give the ball to a left-handed starter.
OK, this is not a secret. All you have to do is read the stat sheet. The Tribe is 4-10 when a left-hander starts for the opposing team. That includes Tuesday night’s 8-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals at Progressive Field.
The Indians’ lineup is so dominated by left-handed hitters — or a combination of left-handers and right-handed bench players — that it doesn’t take a starter with the credentials of a Clayton Kershaw or a CC Sabathia to slam the door on the offense.
Will Smith will do. Smith might not always be referred to as Will who?, but for now he is a virtual unknown, a pitcher with two big-league starts and one big-league win, of course, against the Tribe.
Smith delivered six solid innings, giving up just four hits and two runs, walking two and striking out five. The sad part is that Smith wasn’t even the Indians’ biggest problem.
But he and Justin Masterson — who was the Tribe’s biggest problem — were responsible for this reaction by manager Manny Acta.
“Not because we lost, but that had to be the most boring game I’ve ever been a part of,” he said. “Everything happened in the first two innings. The second inning sucked the air out of everybody.”
The Indians trailed 7-2 after the second, and everyone but the public address announcer and the guys who run the scoreboard seemed to tune out.
“The the whole place went dead after that inning,” Acta said, referring to the crowd. “We couldn’t do anything offensively, and that made it worse.”
Masterson (2-4, 5.14 ERA) stumbled from the outset of the game and eventually yielded eight runs (seven earned) and nine hits in six innings, even though he walked none and struck out eight.
“Masterson couldn’t command his fastball the first two innings,” Acta said. “After that, he got in a pretty good groove and saved our bullpen, but the damage was done.”
It’s all about the sinker with Masterson. Tuesday night, the ball didn’t sink for a couple of innings.
“I got more underneath some of them,” he said. “There always seems to be one inning when I struggle. I need to get rid of that inning.”
Masterson is at least nominally (maybe it doesn’t matter at this point) the ace of the staff, yet his season has been divided into roughly six effective outings and five ineffective ones. That is not exactly what you want from the guy who allegedly is your best starting pitcher — or even your third best.
Asked to describe his season, Masterson said, “Decent. A couple of bad ones and quite a few good ones.”
Tuesday night, the Indians fell into a two-run hole before they came to bat. Mike Moustakas, the fourth batter of the game, walloped a two-run homer to set the tone. The Tribe rallied for two runs in the bottom of the first, but the Royals kept on hammering away at Masterson.
“We need to have these guys [starters] throw in some consistency if we want to be fighting [for the postseason] at the end,” Acta said.
By the middle of the second inning, the game was effectively decided, because Kansas City scored five runs. In addition to RBI singles by Alex Gordon, Johnny Giavotella and Moustakas (his drove in two runs), Masterson hit a batter and Humberto Quintero reached base when he bounced to first, and Jose Lopez’s throw to the plate was too late to keep Eric Hosmer from scoring from third.
Masterson took control of the game after that, but it was several runs too late. Nevertheless, if he were to look at his performance in the best possible light, he could argue that over his last four innings, he limited the Royals to one run and three hits.
Moreover, even if Masterson had been masterful, he probably would have given up at least two runs, which would have gotten him no better than a tie. In other words, the Indians never did figure out how to make Smith (1-1, 6.75 ERA) pay for being a rookie.
After scoring twice in the first inning, largely because Smith walked the first two batters, the Tribe managed three hits over Smith’s final five innings.
“He’s left-handed, and that helps,” Acta said. “We had him on the ropes the first inning and let him off the hook. He was pretty good after that. He showed a good curveball, and after they got seven runs, you could see he had more confidence.”
It was the same story last weekend against White Sox rookie Jose Quintana, who held the Tribe to two runs in six innings to earn his first major-league win.
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.