The Indians’ offense was stuck in neutral again and Josh Tomlin struggled with his command Thursday as Cleveland (9-8) dropped the rubber match of a three-game series with the Kansas City Royals (5-14), 4-2.
The Royals jumped out to an early lead in the first, loading the bases with nobody out to bring up the dangerous Eric Hosmer. Hosmer hit into a double play and Jeff Francoeur grounded out to end the inning as Tomlin escaped the jam, but Kansas City took a 1-0 lead as Yuniesky Betancourt scored on Hosmer’s grounder.
Jose Lopez was the unlikely spark for the Tribe’s offense in the bottom of the third. He led off the inning with a single to snap Luis Mendoza‘s two-inning perfect game, advanced to second on Jason Kipnis‘ groundout, moved to third on Mendoza’s wild pitch, and came home to score on Aaron Cunningham‘s RBI single to tie the game, 1-1.
The Royals’ bats laid dormant for a while, but they woke up again in the fifth. With runners at the corners and two outs, Kansas City got back-to-back-to-back RBI singles from Francoeur, Mike Moustakas (whose hit knocked Tomlin out of the game), and Brayan Pena to take a 4-1 lead.
The Indians looked to be building a comeback in the sixth inning as they loaded the bases with no outs (knocking Mendoza out of the game) for big bat Travis Hafner. Pronk’s sacrifice fly plated Michael Brantley, but Shelley Duncan struck out and Jack Hannahan grounded out to kill the rally. Neither team managed to get on the board again from there on out and the Royals held on to win, 4-2.
The Good: The bullpen. It wasn’t always pretty—Dan Wheeler struggled to get out of the fifth—but Wheeler, Tony Sipp, and Joe Smith combined to throw 4.1 innings of shutout ball, allowing just two hits and a walk while getting two strikeouts. It’s not easy for a relief corps to fill in so well when the starter leaves the game prematurely, especially since early exits have become the norm for this rotation. Kudos to them for keeping the Tribe in the game.
The Bad: Josh Tomlin won’t overpower you and he won’t try to get you to chase pitches out of the zone. He’s a soft-tossing strike-thrower—that’s just how he pitches and it’s how he’s found success. The problem is, those attributes make him an incredibly hittable pitcher, and when he doesn’t have his best stuff he’s in trouble. That’s what we’ve seen in both of his appearances against the Royals this year.
Seeing the Indians blow opportunity after opportunity at the plate is rough, too. Cleveland combined for 11 hits and walks Thursday afternoon, but just two baserunners came around to score. The rational analyst in me knows that that’s nothing to worry about long-term, but this is the second straight series in which the Tribe’s inability to take advantage of big opportunities has been endemic. You just can’t win that way.
The “Huh?”: I harped on this yesterday, but after two games of this it’s clear it’s not a fluke: Why is Aaron Cunningham playing right field instead of Shelley Duncan? Yes, his defined role in Cleveland is to back up all three outfield spots while Duncan’s is to play left, but the two positions are virtually the same except that right fielders usually make farther throws. Is that arbitrary role definition enough to justify keeping the player with the inferior arm in the spot where it matters more?
Interesting Tidbit: Thursday marked the first time Tomlin had allowed more than two runs in an outing in more than more than a year. The previous last time: He gave up three walks against the Seattle Mariners on April 10, 2011.