CLEVELAND — Justin Masterson usually has plenty of people to blame for an unsuccessful outing — namely seven or eight batters in the Indians’ lineup.
Friday night at Progressive Field, there was only himself.
Off his game early and often, Cleveland’s ace was far from No. 1 material, paving the way for Tampa Bay to even the series at a game apiece with a lopsided 10-3 win.
Masterson (5-8, 4.40 ERA), who has notoriously received a lack of run support during his time as a starter in Cleveland, allowed a season-high eight earned runs in his shortest outing of the year — 4 1/3 innings.
“Justin just didn’t have very good command of his pitches,” said manager Manny Acta, whose team had its winning streak snapped at three, with Masterson failing to last at least six innings for the first time in 14 starts. “He was a bit erratic, and they made him pay for it.”
The right-hander walked four and was off his location from the start, serving up a two-run home run to Ben Zobrist three batters into the game.
“Not much was going over the plate,” Masterson said. “I probably should’ve thrown left-handed.”
Things were so bad that Masterson not only allowed Rays designated hitter Luke Scott to snap his franchise-record hitless skid at 41, he did so by surrendering a two-run homer to Scott in Tampa Bay’s decisive six-run fifth inning.
Rather than beat himself up for the poor performance, Masterson, who allowed multiple homers for the first time this season, chose to find humor in the events, especially where Scott was concerned.
“I was just trying to be friendly, saw Luke Scott was struggling quite a bit, coming close to a record,” Masterson said facetiously. “So I figured, what the heck? Let’s give him an opportunity to get out of it. He’s a good guy. I gave him a nice pitch to hit. It’s just people helping people.”
Scott, a former Cleveland minor leaguer, fell five at-bats short of setting the dubious major league record for consecutive at-bats without a hit, held by Eugenio Velez (Giants, Dodgers) from 2010-11.
It looked as though Cleveland’s offense would continue its hot streak after scoring twice in the opening inning off Rays starter Alex Cobb. But that was all the Indians got off the right-hander, who surrendered six hits over six innings.
The Indians fell three games back of first-place Chicago in the Central Division.
“We let him off the hook in the first inning,” said Acta, who watched his team load the bases with no outs before Travis Hafner bounced into a double play to score the first run. “But you have to give him credit. He made the adjustment.”
Cobb (4-5, 4.89 ERA) retired 10 straight before Casey Kotchman’s leadoff single in the fifth.
Masterson wasn’t the only pitcher the Rays lit up. Nick Hagadone’s struggles continued, with the left-hander surrendering two runs on two hits and two walks in just ⅔ of an inning. He allowed a two-run double to the first batter he faced — Elliott Johnson.
“In order for us to beat (Tampa Bay), we have to pitch,” Acta said, “because you know the one thing they are going to do is pitch. We didn’t pitch at all.”
Hagadone, who appeared to be working his way into the late-inning mix upon his arrival from Triple-A Columbus, has allowed 17 earned runs over his last 15 innings (18 games).
He is a candidate to be sent back down should he fail to improve.
“There’s always a point,” Acta said. “We’re going to talk about it and see what we can do to right Nick and make us better.”
Left-hander Scott Barnes could be recalled before the All-Star break begins Monday.
It was a surprisingly subpar effort for Masterson, who posted a 2.05 ERA in five June starts. And it came against one of the worst-hitting clubs in the majors.
“He’s been pitching as good as anybody the last month,” Acta said. “He had a rough one.”
Masterson certainly wasn’t reading too much into the poor outing.
“I’ve been pitching great,” he said. “We’re going to take some time off and come back and dominate in the second half.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or email@example.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.
• WHO: Cleveland vs. Tampa Bay
• TIME: 6:05
• WHERE: Progressive Field
• PITCHERS: Jimenez (7-7, 4.59 ERA) vs. Moore (5-5, 4.17)
• TV/RADIO: No TV; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM