CLEVELAND -- Starting pitching was expected to be a strength for the Indians this year. Thus far, it’s been their biggest weakness.
Another brief and ineffective outing from the rotation -- right-hander Josh Tomlin -- led to another loss for Cleveland, which dropped the series finale to Tampa Bay 7-4 Wednesday afternoon at Progressive Field.
The Indians have lost six of their last nine games, with the starting staff, which is without injured ace Corey Kluber, playing a major role. Cleveland’s rotation owns the highest ERA (5.15) in the American League and ranks toward the top in home runs allowed (37 over 39 games).
“It’s disappointing to see. I think that’s the main thing,” said Tomlin, who allowed six runs on seven hits (two homers) over just 2 1/3 innings. “We’ve got to do a better job as a unit. There’s no, ‘It’s early,’ or anything like that. It’s ‘We need to do a better job from top to bottom.’ We’ve had some guys pitch some good games but we haven’t strung together enough consistent outings as a group to give our team a chance to win. That falls on us.”
Manager Terry Francona was asked if he thought the rotation issues would correct themselves.
“I think we have to make it correct themselves,” he said. “I don’t know that just by showing up and saying, ‘Well, it’s a new day.’ That’s a good way to start, but we need to do some things better.”
Tomlin’s poor performance came on the heels of a dismal outing from Danny Salazar on Tuesday and was similarly perplexing.
Salazar struck out nine batters, but allowed a career-high four homers in a 6-4 loss. Tomlin allowed a hit to the first batter he faced before striking out five straight, then surrendered four straight two-out hits in the second inning capped by Corey Dickerson’s three-run homer that put Tampa Bay in front 4-0.
The Rays, who are among the league leaders in homers, went deep 10 times during the three-game series.
“The solo (homers) are what you usually hope for because (Tomlin’s) around the plate,” Francona said. “He just threw it right in Dickerson’s happy zone. That was a big blow there. That’s a three-run (homer).
“For the most part, they’re going to live and die doing that. They hit a lot of home runs, they strike out. In this series, the homers outdid the strikeouts.”
“When the mistakes started happening or they strung together one or two hits that kind of fell in, they were like a shark smelling blood,” Tomlin said. “They just kind of started swinging. I left the ball over the heart of the plate on a couple of those pitches and they put a good swing on them. The more mistakes you make to a team that’s kind of free-swinging like that, the more barrel (of the bat) they’re probably going to find.”
The Indians scored three times over seven innings against Rays starter Alex Cobb, who beat Cleveland in the 2013 wild card game.
Consecutive doubles from Lonnie Chisenhall and Bradley Zimmer scored the first of two runs for the Indians in the second. Cleveland loaded the bases in the inning, but Edwin Encarnacion struck out looking to end the threat.
It was another rough day for the slumping slugger Encarnacion, who also took a called third strike with a runner on second to end the fifth inning.
“I think he got a little overanxious that one at-bat with the bases loaded,” Francona said of Encarnacion, who is batting .203 with six homers and 14 RBIs over 39 games. “He knows what’s going on and what he’s supposed to do and all that. He’s OK and he’s going to be OK. It’s not been the best six weeks (for him). He knows that. He’ll get it.”
Zimmer’s day went much better than his debut Tuesday night -- three strikeouts in three at-bats. In addition to his first hit, RBI and run in the second, Zimmer also hit his first big league homer -- a solo shot in the ninth.
“That was good for him,” Francona said. “It is a loss but it’s still nice to see that. You want to take anything positive that you can. I’m sure that he feels a heck of a lot better today than he did (Tuesday).”