September 3, 2014

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Indians avoid no-hitter vs. Tigers, but not another loss

CLEVELAND — What was all but a foregone conclusion for the past month and a half was officially confirmed Saturday: The Indians will not play in the postseason.

Even before taking the field for a late afternoon affair with Detroit, Cleveland had been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, thanks to first-place Chicago’s victory over Minnesota earlier in the day.

But the Indians went out and did what they do best anyway these days, dropping a 5-3 decision to the Tigers for their seventh loss in eight games.

At 16-45, Cleveland owns the second-lowest winning percentage in the majors since the All-Star break, and is 10-37 since pulling within 3½ games of the White Sox after beating Justin Verlander and the Tigers on July 26.

Detroit scored early off Indians starter Justin Masterson, who worked another unimpressive outing, lasting just 4⅔ innings and allowing four runs (two earned) on six hits, while striking out eight.

“Masterson had very good stuff, but he was very inconsistent with his command,” manager Manny Acta said. “We didn’t play good defense behind him, but when you have traffic on the bases, those things happen.”

Masterson’s stuff was good enough to strike out six batters over the first two innings, but the Tigers scored twice in the first — both Andy Dirks and Prince Fielder crossing the plate after drawing walks.

The right-hander threw 105 pitches.

“I would’ve rather had more ground balls (than strikeouts) to keep the pitch count down,” Masterson said. “I felt pretty good and made some pretty good pitches. It was another one of those days.”
Masterson, pegged as Cleveland’s ace to start the season, has endured plenty of these days throughout an up-and-down year (11-14, 4.93 ERA).

“It’s been a trying season,” he said. “You look at where we are … I haven’t done the job I’m supposed to do. That’s what’s gotten us to where we’re at.”

Cleveland’s anemic offense has contributed mightily to the slide as well, and it struggled again Saturday against Tigers starter Anibal Sanchez.

Detroit’s right-hander didn’t allow a hit until Carlos Santana’s two-out triple in the seventh inning.

“Sanchez did a very nice job,” Acta said. “I’m not going to take anything away from him. He had very good stuff.”

It was no surprise that Santana provided Cleveland’s first hit. He is in the midst of a second-half surge that has seen him lead the Indians in virtually every offensive category over the span.

“He’s been much better in the second half,” Acta said of Santana, who is batting .288 at home as opposed to .215 on the road. “Unfortunately, he’s the only guy that’s picked it up in the second half. He’s picking it up. That’s something that’s good for him.”

Santana has become less pull-conscious at the Indians’ insistence.

“I’m trying to use all the field,” he said.

Santana’s triple — his first of the season — led to two runs in the seventh and the Tribe added another run in the eighth. But Cleveland went quietly in the ninth against Detroit closer Jose Valverde, who retired the side in order for his 31st save.

“We made it interesting over the last three innings,” Acta said.

The Tigers were deprived of a run in the fifth inning when the Indians appealed that Alex Avila had missed third base en route to scoring. The run remained on the scoreboard an inning after the ruling had been made.

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.

TODAY

• WHO: Cleveland vs. Detroit
• TIME: 3:05 p.m.
• WHERE: Progressive Field
• PITCHERS: Jimenez (9-16, 5.52 ERA) vs. Porcello (9-12, 4.59)
• TV/RADIO: SportsTime Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM