CLEVELAND — There was a left-hander on the mound against the Indians on Sunday, so naturally, a loss in the standings followed.
It mattered little that the southpaw pitching on this occasion was none other than Zach Britton, who entered the outing with a 9.00 ERA in his only big league start of the season. Losing to left-handers — and pretty much anyone else these days — is what the Indians do.
With Britton doing a number on its flailing hitters, Cleveland dropped a 4-3 decision to the Orioles, who secured the four-game series with wins in the first three.
The Indians are 20-10 in games that the opposing team starts a lefty.
“There are times when it doesn’t matter who you see,” manager Manny Acta said. “When you’re scuffling, you’re scuffling, and, right now, we’re scuffling.”
Without a doubt.
The Indians’ fourth straight loss and seventh in nine games left them under .500 (47-48) for the first time since April 14 and boosted their deficit in the Central Division standings to 4 1/2 games behind the first-place Tigers.
A lack of offense has been at the forefront of the recent slide for the Indians, who have been outscored 17-6 in the first three games of the series, going scoreless in a 16-inning span from the first inning Saturday to the ninth Sunday.
Britton had much to do with the failure to score Sunday, shutting out the Indians on just four hits over six innings.
“We need to figure out something to get us going,” said catcher Lou Marson, who struck out twice in three at-bats. “I don’t know what it is, but we definitely need to figure something out.”
Cleveland starter Josh Tomlin started shaky but made the adjustment that his hitters never did, allowing just two first-inning runs on J.J. Hardy’s home run over six innings.
“Aside from the that first inning, I felt like I threw the ball pretty well,” said Tomlin, who has been burnt in the opening inning on a number of occasions this season. “I’ve done the same thing since 2010. I don’t have an answer for that.”
“I can’t pinpoint that,” Acta said of Tomlin’s first-inning woes. “The result at the end is what matters. It’s a quality start.”
Tomlin (5-7, 5.34 ERA) didn’t blame the offense despite the lack of support.
“Those guys are battling, just like (the pitchers) are,” he said. “Those guys don’t want to go out there and do that stuff.”
But it was clear that the Indians’ lack of offense was at the root of the latest loss.
Even their most productive hitter of the day, first baseman Carlos Santana (3-for-4 with a homer and two RBIs) could be criticized for taking five pitches with the bases loaded and two outs and striking out with the Indians trailing 2-0 in the sixth.
Santana’s two-run homer was part of a ninth-inning rally from Cleveland, which scored three times before Orioles closer Jim Johnson struck out Asdrubal Cabrera with two on to end the game. Johnson told reporters after the game that he walked the previous batter, Shin-Soo Choo, on purpose because he felt he had a better chance to retire the struggling Cabrera, who went 0-for-5 and struck out twice.
Baltimore goes for the sweep today, with red-hot Detroit coming to Cleveland for a three-game series that begins Tuesday.
“I don’t think there’s any panic,” Tomlin said. “We understand that we’re not playing good baseball on all sides right now. We have to go out and take care of that and the rest will take care of itself.”
“The sun is going to come out (today),” Acta said. “We still have 60 games to go and things can change in a heartbeat.
“I’m disappointed because of the way we played the last three games, because our fans have come out and supported us, and we didn’t play our best.”
Fans have been slow to support the Indians, but they drew crowds of over 33,000 for the first two games of the series, with 28,049 in the stands Sunday.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or email@example.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.