Stop me if you heard this one before. A soft tossing lefty who hasn’t been great, sees the Indians and turns himself into the second coming of Sandy Koufax. Toronto’s JA Happ made his third start of the year. The last time out, he didn’t make it out of the third inning, giving up four runs on seven hits, including two homers in a 5-3 loss to the Angels. Naturally a night after destroying Jays pitching for 15 runs on 22 hits, Happ held the Indians down to one run on six hits in six innings in a 4-2 Blue Jays win. Only a homer by David Murphy staved off the lefty holding the Tribe scoreless.
Baseball is such a crazy game. The last time the Indians scored double figures was two weeks ago at home against the Chicago White Sox. The 12-run outburst was followed by five runs in three games. The soft tossing lefty Happ started yet another offensive skid. The big difference between the 2013 92-win club and this year’s version of the Tribe is the way they handle left-handed pitching. The magic of guys like Ryan Raburn, Nick Swisher, Yan Gomes, and Carlos Santana in their handling of southpaws has all but disappeared. It is not a good sign when your three (Raburn – who should never be hitting third) and four (Santana) hitters are hitting .181 and .158 respectively. The Indians have now been worked over by Erik Bedard and Happ in the same week. Ouch.
“Unfortunately for us, we’re just not getting much going, especially against left-handers,” Raburn said. “Hopefully it is a fluke. I know a lot of us haven’t started off the way we should, but it’s 162 games. We’ve just got to keep battling and grinding and sooner or later we’ll start to turn it around.”
In all fairness, the Indians were without their best two hitters in Michael Brantley (off night with a stiff back) and Jason Kipnis (DL), but it is not as if Happ is Randy freaking Johnson. They even tried rookie Jesus Aguilar, fresh off of his recall from Columbus, at the DH spot. That didn’t work. The power hitting right-handed bat has been dominating AAA pitching, at a .298 clip with seven homers and 19 RBI in 37 games. Aguilar went 0-2 with a walk.
“He pitched in enough, especially to our righties,” manager Terry Francona said of Happ. “That kind of opened up the rest of the plate. And, we just never really could sustain an inning. We’d get a couple guys on here and there and we just couldn’t really get three or four hits in a row.”
Meanwhile, Danny Salazar was the complete antithesis of Happ, though he managed to just give up two runs. Right now, Salazar is a two-pitcher hurler who is living high in the zone. You can’t do that and continue to be successful. The two runs both came on solo homers by Edwin Encarnacion and Juan Francisco, the seventh and eighth allowed by Salazar. The rest of the Indians staff has allowed 17 combined. He departed after just four innings, throwing 98 pitches and giving up those two runs on five hits and two walks.
“My pitches just weren’t working like they do usually,” said Salazar. “I just didn’t have a good feeling for the ball today to command my fastball, and my changeup wasn’t there.”
That seems to be the prevailing problem for the Indians phenom. He can’t seem to spot one pitch per start. In his eight starts spanning just 40.1 innings, Salazar has only pitched past the sixth twice. With Trevor Bauer looking sharp and ready in Columbus, it would not shock me if Danny was sent down to work out some of his kinks. His 5.53 ERA isn’t going to cut it.
The Jays extended their 2-0 lead right away in the fifth against CC Lee, who faced just two batters. Jose Bautista singled and then Encarnacion touched Lee up for his second homer of the game. Lee was replaced by lefty Josh Outman, which began the parade of relievers. Outman, Scott Atchison, Marc Rzepczynski, and John Axford all held the Blue Jays scoreless from that point on, giving the offense a chance to get back into the game.
Happ gave way to another lefty, Brett Cecil, who worked around a Murphy infield single to keep the Indians off the board. Blue Jays skipper John Gibbons then made the mistake of using a right-handed reliever in the eighth, which immediately woke the slumbering Tribe bats. Raburn doubled against Steve Delabar in front of a Santana walk. Two more scalded shots by Asdrubal Cabrera and pinch hitter Lonnie Chisenhall were run down for outs, but Gomes’s single brought in Raburn. Suddenly the go ahead run came to the plate in the form of Murphy. Gibbons called on lefty Aaron Loup, who naturally K’d Murphy on three pitches to end the threat.
Jays closer Casey Janssen set down the Tribe in order in the ninth as the Jays took the game and the series.
The loss moved the Indians to 4-10 against left-handed starters and pushed them into the AL Central basement at 19-22. A night after going 12-26 with runners in scoring position, the Indians were 1-10. This team has been too inconsistent in all phases of the game and needs to get things together. The 3-3 road trip was an improvement, but still not good enough.
They return home tonight to start a tough homestand against the American League’s two best teams, the Oakland Athletics and the Detroit Tigers. Oakland will send their young stud Sonny Gray (4-1, 2.17 ERA) to the mound to face off with Cleveland’s Zach McAllister (3-3, 3.89 ERA).