KANSAS CITY, Mo.: Justin Masterson is the Indians’ stopper. But in the first game of Sunday’s split doubleheader against the Royals, the only thing he stopped was a possible win.
Masterson was charged with seven runs in 6? innings, as the Tribe went down to ignominious defeat, 9-0, at Kauffman Stadium.
It took Corey Kluber to stop the Tribe’s three-game losing streak, as the Royals fell 10-3 in the second game.
Kluber, called up from Columbus April 10, was scheduled to start twice before but bad weather intervened.
This time he got his chance and took advantage of it, giving up two runs and seven hits and no walks in seven innings. He needed 97 pitches, throwing 67 percent for strikes.
“Early in the game he was up with his pitches, but then he reeled it in and got in the flow of the game,” manager Terry Francona said. “The way he’s had to bounce around, what he did tonight was very impressive. To his credit, he pitched a whale of a game.”
Kluber (2-0, 2.25 ERA) hadn’t pitched for a week, but the layoff didn’t seem to affect his command.
“I’ve tried to stay sharp,” he said. “I think the bullpen I threw in Chicago was enough to do it.”
After scoring in only two of the previous 28 innings, the Indians’ attack came out firing, scoring two unearned runs in the first inning, when third baseman Mike Moustakas let a hard ground ball get through him. Carlos Santana singled to drive in one run, and Mike Aviles’ ground out accounted for the other RBI.
Aviles turned into a major contributor in the third, when he hit a three-run homer to give Kluber the luxury of not having to be nearly perfect.
“With a 2-and-0 count, I was looking for something to drive,” Aviles said.
In the seventh, Aviles delivered a sacrifice fly to give him five RBI for the game.
“Here’s a guy who is not an everyday player carrying the offense,” Francona said. “It’s nice to have a guy like that.”
Whereas the Royals had been making the plays in the first two games of the series, Eric Hosmer and Chris Getz, in addition to Moustakas, committed errors that helped the Indians score four unearned runs.
It certainly wasn’t fair to blame everything on Masterson in the first game. Even if he had thrown a shutout, the best he would have gotten was a tie, as the Indians’ offense was offensive only to fans in Northeast Ohio.
Jeremy Guthrie, drafted in the first round by the Tribe in 2002, has been around the block more than a few times, making stops at Baltimore, Colorado and now Kansas City since leaving Cleveland.
His win Sunday gave him 16 consecutive starts without a loss, dating to Aug. 8 of last year, tying a franchise record set by Paul Splittorff. Guthrie’s record over this span is 8-0 with eight no-decisions. The team’s record in these starts is 14-2.
Guthrie (3-0, 3.06 ERA) didn’t have to work up much of a sweat to keep the Tribe in check, as he gave up six hits and three walks in 6? innings.
The Indians’ various hitting slumps have been broken up by a nine-run explosion against the White Sox and a couple of double-digit outbursts, the last a 19-run eruption against the Astros eight days ago.
But when you look at the attack in its entirety, in 14 of 22 games the Tribe has scored three or fewer runs 14 times and one or fewer runs five times.
“We certainly hope to find ways to get better, but those types of stats aren’t going to help us score in the second game,” said Francona, who didn’t know his club was going to bust out if its slump in the nightcap.
Has the drought been a product of excellent pitching or bad hitting?
“It’s probably a little bit of both,” Francona said. “The last couple of days, they [opposing pitchers] have established their secondary pitches and thrown strikes with their fastballs, and we’ve gotten caught in-between [in our swings].”
One problem: In the opener, the first Tribe batter in every inning failed to reach base until the ninth. Saturday night, when the Indians scored two runs, the leadoff batter got on base three times.
“I think every game has probably has been different,” Francona said, trying to explain the skid.
Masterson (4-2, 3.12 ERA) has been the Indians’ most consistent and effective starter, but his lack of command led to problems Sunday. Of the four batters he walked, three scored. Masterson also gave up a home run to Alcides Escobar.
“There were some good pitches and some bad pitches,” said Masterson, who struck out nine. “I was getting underneath some pitches and that led to the walks.”
Masterson walked Moustakas in the second and fourth innings, and both times he scored.
“I think there was a force field around the strike zone in his first two at-bats,” Masterson said facetiously. “I don’t know why.”
Masterson gave up four runs through five innings to keep the Tribe in the game, though the Indians showed few signs of making any noise at the plate.
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.