CLEVELAND — A day after playing a near flawless game against Central Division leader Detroit, the Indians returned to their highly imperfect selves Wednesday night at Progressive Field.
Poor pitching and fielding combined with another lackluster performance from its offense sent Cleveland to a 5-3 loss to the Tigers, who remained tied with Chicago atop the division standings — four games in front of the third-place Indians.
A subpar effort from starting pitcher Derek Lowe, coupled with two pivotal errors from All-Star shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera, and just five hits from the offense, sent the Indians to their seventh defeat in 11 games.
“We had to play catch-up baseball from the get-go, which is never good,” said Indians manager Manny Acta, whose team trailed 3-0 after two innings. “But we didn’t score enough runs anyway.”
Lowe (8-9, 5.09 ERA) was better than his last disastrous outing, but not nearly good enough against the vaunted Detroit lineup, allowing five runs (four earned) on eight hits and three walks over six innings.
He surrendered one in the opening inning and two in the second, but appeared to find a groove with consecutive 1-2-3 innings before allowing a run in the fifth that he thought was key to the outcome.
Down by just a run after Casey Kotchman’s two-run home run in the third, Lowe walked the bases full in the fifth and allowed another run on Prince Fielder’s sacrifice fly.
“The three walks in a row was a big turning point,” Lowe said. “Anytime you’re facing a lineup like that and you walk the bases loaded, nothing positive is going to come out of that.”
Defense let Lowe down in the second — namely Cabrera, who was charged with a pair of throwing errors that led to two runs crossing the plate. Replays showed that the Indians actually recorded the out on the first of Cabrera’s misfires.
“Let’s be honest. It was one error,” Acta said. “The human element went against us. I can’t blame Cabrera for that one.”
Still, Cabrera has not been himself in the field this season, committing 12 errors already after being charged with 15 total in 2011.
Lowe also hasn’t been himself since a banner start to the year. Over his last 11 outings, the veteran right-hander has posted an 8.07 ERA (52 earned runs/58 innings), allowing 25 walks and striking out 25.
“I’ve pitched worse than this in my career, believe it or not,” he said. “But by no means do I go out there and think I’m not going to get the job done. When you’re in a little funk, you just keep plugging along.”
Cleveland’s hitters have been in a season-long funk, only emerging on occasion, and Wednesday wasn’t one of them, with the Indians mustering little against Detroit starter Max Scherzer.
Scherzer allowed two runs on the Kotchman homer before shutting out the Indians on just one hit over his final four innings of work.
“Anytime you have a guy with plus-plus stuff and he’s able to locate, it makes it difficult,” Kotchman said of Scherzer, who has allowed three homers to Kotchman in 12 career at-bats.
The Indians have scored three runs or fewer in 11 of their last 13 games, but starting pitching appears to be more of a priority, with Cleveland ranking near the bottom of the majors in team ERA — thanks in large part to the rotation.
Indians starters have posted a 4.70 ERA this season, compared to a 4.32 ERA over the same amount of games last year.
“That’s never a good question to ask players,” Lowe said when asked if his club needed pitching help at the trading deadline. “If I say yes, that means I’m saying that the 24 guys I play with aren’t good enough. They pay us to play and they pay (the front office) to make those decisions.”
Acta had a more direct answer.
“Of course we need pitching help. Everybody knows that,” he said. “When you’re second-to-last in pitching, you can’t sit here and say you don’t need pitching help. But we have to get better in our clubhouse. We need more than one guy.”
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