CLEVELAND — Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana finally showed up, and the Indians still lost.
Swisher and Santana, two of Cleveland’s biggest sagging offensive stars, displayed signs of life at the plate Friday night for one of the few times this season, but the Indians didn’t get enough production from the rest in a 3-2 loss to the Blue Jays at Progressive Field.
Santana hit his first home run of the season to put Cleveland up 2-1 in the sixth inning and Swisher snapped an 0-for-12 skid with hits in his first two at-bats. But the Indians’ season-long struggles with runners in scoring position continued and were at the root of their fifth loss in seven games.
Cleveland, which entered the night batting .229 with runners in scoring position, went 0-for-9 in that situation Friday and left 12 on base.
“I thought (Santana) and Swish swung the bat better tonight. That bodes well for us,” manager Terry Francona said. “Kip (Jason Kipnis) had some good at-bats.
We had some good at-bats.
“I think when you’re not scoring in bunches, you’re trying to get the other runs in that don’t necessarily take hits, (and those) are important. You get a runner on third and less than two outs, those are the important ones that we probably need to start doing better (in). We’re going to get hits. Two-out hits are great, but we’ve left some runners on third. That’s been costly for us.”
It certainly was Friday.
Down by the final count, the Indians loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth inning against closer Sergio Santos and had their best hitter at the plate in left fielder Michael Brantley. The uprising was snuffed when Brantley hit a one-hop smash that first baseman Edwin Encarnacion knocked down and made the play on to finish off Cleveland.
The Indians squandered a golden opportunity well before the Brantley at-bat when Lonnie Chisenhall started the inning with a double over the head of left fielder Melky Cabrera, only to have Michael Bourn and Swisher strike out. Bourn failed to get down a bunt to move Chisenhall to third before fanning.
“We ended up with bases loaded and Brantley hitting a rocket at the first baseman, so through it all, you keep playing,” Francona said. “We didn’t get a bunt down, we had a strikeout, but we keep playing. If Brantley’s ball is a couple feet over, we win, but we put ourselves in a tough spot. It’s hard to win those games.”
The Indians got a positive performance from ace Justin Masterson, who bounced back from consecutive poor outings to allow two runs on six hits, while striking out nine over 6⅓ innings.
“The last few games, the slider has been picking up pretty good,” Masterson said. “Just in general, a lot better control than we had the last couple games. It just worked out better.”
Masterson opened the seventh inning by striking out Moises Sierra, but then walked No. 9 hitter Ryan Goins. That brought up Cabrera, who had hits in all three of his at-bats off the right-hander.
With the Indians in front by a run, Francona turned to Marc Rzepczysnki and it backfired. Rzepczysnki allowed a soft single to Cabrera, then an RBI single to Munenori Kawasaki that tied the game before Cody Allen came on to surrender the go-ahead run on a base hit from Encarnacion.
“We wanted Zep to be ready and then Cody behind him, but with the score 2-1 and we didn’t score that third run and the way Melky was swinging off (Masterson) and he had the walk and the ball didn’t come out real crisp. It seemed to me to make sense.
“I always think we’re going to get them out, regardless of who’s pitching. Melky had a very good night. He didn’t hit the ball real hard to left and Kawasaki hit the ball of his shoe tops up the middle. We had a pickoff on and we had him out and (Yan Gomes) skipped it to first or we had a chance to get out of that inning.”
At 7-9, the Indians haven’t opened the season in ideal fashion.
“Right now, it just seems like we’re all still a little rusty,” Masterson said. “There’s still some kinks we’re working out as we go through it. We’ve had some good starts lately. We had some bad starts before that. We’ve had a few defensive flaws here.
“The offense has been great in the overall sense. We’re just working out the kinks, having some fun. A lot of close games. I think you’ll find as we continue to go, there’s going to be a lot of great things coming.”
WHO: Cleveland vs. Toronto
WHERE: Progressive Field
PITCHERS: Kluber (1-1, 5.40 ERA) vs. Buehrle (3-0, 0.86)
TV/RADIO: SportsTime Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM, WMMS 100.7-FM