November 28, 2014

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Braves get best of Byrd

braves 6, indians 2
Starter struggles again; so does Tribe offense

CLEVELAND — Paul Byrd’s margin for error isn’t measured in miles per hour as much as tenths of an inch.
When he is painting the outer reaches of the strike zone, dancing in and off the plate and keeping the ball down, Byrd can chew up innings.
But when his location is off even the slightest, as it was Saturday against the Atlanta Braves, Byrd is an easy target. The Braves knocked him for 10 hits and five runs over five innings, leading to a 6-2 Indians defeat at Jacobs Field.
Cleveland (39-28) has lost three in a row and four of its last five at Jacobs Field, where it has the second-best home record in the major leagues.
Opponents have been teeing off on Byrd of late. In his last six outings, Byrd’s allowed
58 hits in 341/3 innings. He’s allowed eight or more hits in 10 of his 12 starts this year.
As a fifth starter, Byrd’s greatest value is his ability to keep the game close, lasting deep into games and thereby taking pressure off the bullpen. But after lasting at least six innings in his first 10 starts, Byrd (6-3 overall, 4.81 ERA) hasn’t made it past the fifth in his last two outings.
“When I made good pitches, they kept fouling balls off and would keep fighting and fighting, and a hit would fall in,” said Byrd. “When I made bad pitches, they hit them hard. They made me really work.”
Braves shortstop Edgar Renteria repeatedly burned the Indians, collecting five hits and two runs. He hit a solo homer to ice it in the ninth inning.
The Braves didn’t exactly club Byrd — only four of their 13 hits were for extra bases. Atlanta’s approach was to apply constant pressure, killing him softly.
In the second inning, Atlanta strung together four weak hits, including a Kelly Johnson floater to shallow center field that scored Scott Thurman. Yunel Escobar flicked a slow chopper through the infield and later scored on Willie Harris’ groundout to second.
Byrd watched, gritting his teeth, his glove digging into his hip.
“I thought I was making some very good pitches,” he said.
With the score tied at 2, Byrd lost his grip on the game in the fifth inning. After allowing a leadoff triple to Johnson, Harris squeezed a slow chopper up the middle that was stopped by shortstop Jhonny Peralta. But the throw to first was late and Johnson scored from third. Harris then stole second and scored on Renteria’s RBI double. Brian McCann grounded out to second, scoring Renteria.
“They chipped away at him,” said Indians manager Eric Wedge. “They took great advantage of the opportunities they had.”
Cleveland’s offense, one of the most prolific in the American League, was toothless against John Smoltz, Atlanta’s lone remaining link to its golden age of pitching greatness.
Smoltz was making his first appearance at Jacobs Field since the 1995 World Series and was superb, ending Atlanta’s recent skid of nine losses in its previous 12 games. He went six innings, allowing two runs on seven hits and striking out seven without allowing a walk.
Smoltz (8-3) is second in the National League in wins. He has allowed two runs or fewer in 10 of his 14 starts.
“You go up there expecting to see great stuff,” said Casey Blake, who extended his hitting streak to a major league-best 25 games with a third-inning single. “But you have to tell yourself that you’re both at the same level. He still has to throw the ball over the plate. It was a great challenge facing one of the best right-handers in the game.”
Cleveland’s one productive inning came in the third when Smoltz allowed consecutive hits to Josh Barfield, Kelly Shoppach and Grady Sizemore. But what might have been a breakthrough moment was cut short when David Dellucci, batting with runners on first and third, grounded into a double play, scoring Shoppach to tie it at 2.
The wasted opportunity underscores a troubling trend for the Indians. In their last seven games, the Indians are averaging a meager 3.2 runs per game — more than two runs down from their season average.
“Teams go through periods like this,” said Blake. “Hopefully this is a stretch we have to get through. We’re still in first place. We just have to keep on grinding.”
On the bright side, the Indians can feel good about the continued strong performance of long reliever Rafael Perez, who tossed four strong innings, allowing three hits and one earned run.
But it didn’t soothe the frustration of the day.
“We were never really out of it,” said Wedge. “We just couldn’t get anything going.”
Contact Pete Alpern at 329-7137 or palpern@chroniclet.com.

TODAY
WHO: Cleveland vs. Atlanta
TIME: 1:05 p.m.
WHERE: Jacobs Field
PITCHERS: Carmona (7-2, 3.17 ERA) vs. Davies (3-5, 5.70)
TV/RADIO: STO, TBS; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM