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OAKLAND — Justin Masterson was unbeatable last April. This year, the Cleveland right-hander is still winless in the month.
Masterson labored his way through a third consecutive start, matching his career-high of six walks while allowing four runs over five innings in the Indians’ 5-1 loss to the Oakland Athletics on Sunday.
That’s 10 walks in the last 8 2-3 innings for Cleveland’s opening-day starter, a trend Masterson doesn’t seem too concerned with despite the results.
“We’re not trying to pick the corners but we seem to be just right there, just missing,” Masterson said. “We’re real close. It’s nothing way out, nothing real crazy. It’s just something that’s happened, a little spree of games. Hopefully we can turn it around.”
Travis Hafner doubled in a run for the Indians, who were trying to start the season 8-1 on the road for the first time since 1910. Hafner reached base in 11 of his 14 plate appearances in the series.
Unlike the first two games, Cleveland failed to generate much offense and repeatedly hurt itself with miscues in the field even though the Indians weren’t charged with any errors.
“There were a couple of plays that we should have been where we didn’t and it cost (Masterson) a few pitches,” Cleveland manager Manny Acta said. “We didn’t score enough runs and gave away way too many outs running the bases and also defensively.”
Seth Smith hit a two-run homer, helping Tyson Ross get his first win in nearly a year to help Oakland avoid a series sweep.
Cliff Pennington had two hits and drove in two runs for the A’s, who ended a two-game slide and have won four of six. Kurt Suzuki also drove in a run.
Ross (1-0) allowed a run and four hits in 6 2-3 innings. He walked five and struck out four while getting his first victory since last May 14 against the Chicago White Sox.
“My whole game is to keep the ball down and let my defense work,” Ross said. “When you get a couple of (double plays), it helps.”
Masterson (0-2), who has allowed 17 runs over his last 13 2-3 innings, threw 111 pitches but only 61 for strikes. The six walks matched the total from his previous three starts combined.
“It’s about attacking the strike zone and being more consistent,” Acta said. “That’s a very low percentage of strikes. You have to be a little bit higher than that to succeed at this level.”
Consecutive doubles from Shin-soo Choo and Hafner gave the Indians a 1-0 edge in the first.
Ross caught Jack Hannahan trying to steal third in the second, ending another possible threat.
It was all Athletics after Pennington doubled in a run in the third to tie the score. He had two hits in his previous 24 at-bats at home.
Following a walk to Kila Ka’aihue leading off the fourth, Smith hit his third home run in six career games against the Indians, a two-run shot that sailed into the right-field bleachers.
Suzuki added an RBI single in the fifth and Pennington beat out an infield single in the eighth, allowing Eric Sogard to score from second base.
NOTES: RHP Derek Lowe (2-1, 3.50) makes his fourth start of the year for the Indians when they open a three-game series at home Tuesday against Kansas City. He is 4-5 in 23 appearances against the Royals. ... Hafner reached base safely in 14 of his previous 17 plate appearances before hitting into a double play in the eighth. ... CF Michael Brantley went 0-for-4, snapping his seven-game hitting streak.