Defense falters for Indians in loss to A's

5/18/2014
BY ZACH MEISEL
(CLEVELAND) PLAIN DEALER

CLEVELAND — Coco Crisp hooked a grounder toward Nick Swisher. The first baseman corralled the baseball, planted his mitt in the sun-splashed dirt, secured his balance and trotted to the bag to record the final out of the seventh.

The fans at Progressive Field — those remaining in their seats after sitting through the Indians' weekend-long struggle — supplied Swisher with a mocking cheer for completing a routine play.

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For the Indians, the routine has become arduous. The simple has become complex. The fundamental has become futile. The necessary has become seemingly impossible.

The Athletics sealed a three-game sweep beside Lake Erie with a 13-3 victory on Sunday, one that again highlighted the Indians' offensive and defensive deficiencies and overall inconsistency.

"What we're doing right now is not good enough," said manager Terry Francona. "We have to play better."

Oakland outscored Cleveland, 30-6, in the series. The Indians scored first in all three games, but to no avail. Michael Bourn's leadoff home run on Sunday provided the Tribe with a lead that lasted for about 15 minutes.

"Some days, we pitch well," Bourn said. "Some days, we hit well. Some days, we play defense well. It can't be some days. You have to be consistent."

Justin Masterson (2-3, 5.06 ERA) exited after 4 1/​3 innings, having surrendered seven runs on seven hits and five walks. Cleveland's 1-0 advantage swiftly morphed into a 7-1 deficit. Consecutive fifth-inning doubles by Brandon Moss and Yoenis Cespedes pushed across three of Oakland's four runs in the frame and ended Masterson's afternoon.

Masterson said he struggled with his command. The typically jovial, free-spirited right-hander said after the outing he didn't "have a lot of good words. I’m really frustrated."

"The next one will be good," Masterson said. "Don't worry. This is the anomaly. ... Next time we'll slice and dice again."

Swisher and Lonnie Chisenhall each committed an error on Sunday. The Indians (19-25) have now been tagged with 45 miscues in their 44 games. Outfielders spent the afternoon guessing the trajectory of fly balls that bounced every which way off every green wall.

The remodeled lineup, in which Francona slotted Swisher and Carlos Santana sixth and seventh, respectively, produced eight hits, but stranded 12 runners. Swisher and Santana combined to go 0-for-9. The Indians finished the series 0-for-15 with runners in scoring position.

Francona had to tap into his overworked bullpen earlier than desired. Oakland's sizzling lineup gave the Tribe relievers trouble. Josh Outman, Scott Atchison, and Cody Allen combined to yield six runs (four earned) over 2 2/​3 innings. Meanwhile, the Athletics' bullpen limited Cleveland to one run on two hits over four frames.

"It's a point where we're being tested," Masterson said. "But we're a good team. Once we start getting back to the fundamentals again, we'll be OK."

Now riding a four-game losing streak, the Indians welcome the division-leading Tigers to town today. At six games below the .500 mark, the Indians have matched their low point, record-wise, of what has been a trying start to the season. A dismal weekend against the A's dropped the Tribe to even greater depths.

"We got beat in every facet of the game: pitching, defense, timely hitting," Bourn said. "They beat us in every facet of the game. We got embarrassed on our home field. It doesn't get any easier. We have Detroit coming to town. They're not going to take it easy on us.

"We have to find a way to fix it and fix it fast."