Walks, Miscues and Missed Opportunities Sink Tribe; Twins 10, Indians 7

When they show video of how the game of baseball is supposed to be played, today’s game will not be the footage used.

The Indians used 15 hits to produce seven runs, but squandered David Murphy’s four-hit game when they allowed eight walks, three hit batsmen and nine hits from its pitching staff. Justin Masterson struggled in his second start of the season the Tribe chased the Twins all afternoon long on the scoreboard.

“I just couldn’t find the zone very well and it continued to be that way,” Masterson said. “It seemed like it was one of those days in general on both sides. The guys battled, battled hard, they put some runs on the board and gave us a chance. Unfortunately, we just didn’t give them that opportunity to get the victory at the end of it.”

Masterson’s un-ace-like effort, followed by several struggling bullpen appearances left the Indians 10-7 losers to the Minnesota Twins on Sunday afternoon. The free base runners, courtesy of the Indians’ pitching staff, was too much for the Tribe offense to overcome. Despite a season-high 15 hits from the offense, the Indians could not get the timely hit in the late innings to chase down the Twins.

Masterson benefitted from a smooth 5-4-3 double play in the first inning to erase a single and hit-by-pitch, but his early lack of command got the best of him in the second inning. Trevor Plouffe became the second Twins’ player to be hit by Masterson in the game when he started the second inning. Jason Kubel followed with a double down the left field line to put runners in scoring position before Kurt Suzuki singled in a run to give Minnesota an early 1-0 lead. The Tribe again benefitted from a double play when Aaron Hicks grounded into a twin-killing, but Kubel was able to score on the play and the Twins lead 2-0 in the middle of the second inning. It was the fifth straight game the Indians were forced to play from behind.

However, the Indians did not trail long as they tallied two runs in the bottom of the second inning. Michael Brantley singled to left to start the inning and after Lonnie Chisenhall flew out to center field, Yan Gomes crushed his second home run of the season, a two-run blast into the left field bleachers to tie the game at two.

It looked like the Indians could score more in the second when Murphy followed Gomes’ blast with a double to right field. Mike Aviles grounded out to third base and Nyjer Morgan grounded out to first base to end the inning. It appeared Twins’ starter Ricky Nolasco may have missed first base covering Joe Mauer’s toss to the bag. Indians manager Terry Francona argued, but did not feel it warranted a challenge.

But the deadlock was short-lived when Minnesota took advantage of more poor Indians starting pitching and defensive miscues to retake the lead. Brian Dozier walked before Mauer executed a perfect hit-and-run through the open hole at shortstop to put runners on the corners. After Jason Bartlett struck out, Chris Colabello hit a chopper out in front of the mound. Gomes pounced on the ball for the Indians and fired to second base in hopes of starting a double play, but neither middle infielder was covering.

The ball sailed into center field, allowing a run to score and runners to remain on the corners. Plouffe and Kubel followed suit with run-scoring singles and Minnesota led 5-2. Kubel’s single through the right side appeared to be a play second baseman Jason Kipnis normally makes, but the ball squirted under his glove and was ruled a hit. While the defense did not support Masterson, he struggled himself with control and command. After three innings, Masterson was already at 81 pitches.

“You want to make some adjustments but that just didn’t happen,” Masterson said. “That was the hard part, trying to get some sliders over. It all just led back to not getting in the strike zone.”

Minnesota added on in the top of the fourth inning on Masterson and the Tribe. Dozier again started the inning with a walk. Mauer struck out and before Masterson could strike out Bartlett, Dozier stole second on a misplayed ball by Gomes. Colabello promptly singled in front of the diving Morgan in center field and Dozier hustled home to give the Twins a 6-2 lead. It finished Masterson’s day, going just three and two-third innings, allowing six runs—five earned—on seven hits and three walks while striking out four. It was the first time since Apr. 12, 2012, Masterson lasted less than four innings in a start in a non-injury situation

It was the fifth straight game the Indians starting pitchers have failed to register a quality start. Scott Atchison relieved Masterson and logged the final out in the fourth inning. Atchison was the only Indians pitcher to work a perfect inning in the game.

The Indians bats were able to swing their way right back into the game—and take advantage of some subpar starting pitching—in the bottom of the fourth inning. Murphy singled to right field for his second hit of the day with one out. After Aviles hustled to beat the relay throw of an attempted double play attempt, Morgan and Nick Swisher each walked off Nolasco to load the bases. Kipnis broke out of a 3-for-19 start to the season with a double off the left field wall that snuck past Bartlett in left field and allowed all three base runners to score and cut the lead to 6-5, Twins.

Nolasco walked Santana to put a pair on, but Brantley grounded out to first base to end the rally with the Tribe still trailing a run. Nolasco was done after four innings, allowing five runs on seven hits and four walks, while striking out one. Anthony Swarzak took over for Minnesota in the fifth inning.

Swarzak, however, found the same Indians offense that Nolasco left. The Tribe tied the game in the bottom of the fifth inning when Chisenhall doubled to left center field past Bartlett’s outstretched glove. After Gomes struck out, Murphy dropped a bloop double down the left field line past another Bartlett dive. Chisenhall raced home and the Indians tied the game at six after five innings. Bartlett was playing left field for Josh Willingham, who left the game after the first inning when he was hit-by-pitch. Murphy had just two hits in the first five games before the four-hit effort, today.

“It feels great,” Murphy said of breaking out of the slump. “It’s kind of been up and down for a while and I’ve been scuffling. Today was just one of those days that when I stepped in the cage, I felt a lot better.”

Atchison finished the fourth and pitched a three-up, three-down fifth inning before giving way to Blake Wood in the sixth. Wood proceeded to give Minnesota the lead right back. Dozier started the inning with his third walk of the day and stole second base on the first pitch against Wood’s slow delivery to the plate. Cleveland elected to intentionally walk Mauer, before Wood hit Bartlett to load the bases. Colabello doubled off the left field wall and all three runs scored as Minnesota re-took the lead, 9-6. After Wood (0-1) retired Plouffe on a ground ball to shortstop, Marc Rzepczynski came on to retire Kubel for the final out of the inning. Minnesota never trailed again in the game.

“It’s going to happen at one point or another during the year,” Murphy said of the pitching struggles. “Obviously it’s not the way you want to start the season but we know what those guys are capable of as well, so we know they are going to bounce back.”

But the never-say-die Indians began another climb back up the scoreboard in the bottom of the sixth inning. After Swisher flew out to deep center field, Kipnis, Santana and Brantley each singled off Swarzak (1-0) and the Indians cut the deficit to 9-7. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire went back to his bullpen for left-hander, Caleb Thielbar. Thielbar walked pinch-hitter Ryan Raburn to load the bases. Just as it looked like the Indians could get back in the game quickly, Gomes grounded into an inning-ending double play. Cleveland had more chances to score, but they wouldn’t be able to score a run in the final third of the game.

The Indians had another chance to score in the seventh inning, but couldn’t get the timely hit necessary to even the contest. Murphy singled to left for his fourth hit of the day to start the inning and Thielbar was dismissed for right-hander Casey Fien. After Aviles struck out, Morgan walked to put two runners on. However, Swisher popped up to the shortstop and Kipnis popped up in foul ground to third base to end the inning.

Rzepczynski pitched a scoreless seventh inning and Bryan Shaw came on to keep the Twins scoreless in the eighth inning. Shaw worked around a double by Mauer to keep the Tribe trailing by just two.

The Indians offense continued to come up one hit short in the eighth against Twins’ reliever Jared Burton. Santana and Brantley each singled to start the inning and set the stage, but Raburn hit a one-bounce, smash right at shortstop Pedro Florimon, who stared a 6-4-3 double play. Gomes hit a weak chopper in front of the plate to end the inning and strand another runner.

John Axford came on to pitch the ninth inning for the Indians and promptly walked the first two batters he faced. With two on and no one out, Suzuki bunted the runners to scoring position before Hicks hit a sacrifice fly to plate Plouffe and make the game 10-7 in favor of the Twins.

Cleveland went three-up, three-down in the bottom of the ninth inning against Twins’ closer Glen Perkins. Perkins earned his second save of the season and rebounded nicely from a bumpy outing on Saturday. Despite the Indians’ 15 hits on the afternoon, they were just 3-for-16 with runners in scoring position and left 12 men on base. Cleveland stands at just 3-3 after six games, and not the performance of a team with sights on the playoffs.

“We’ve had some days where we’ve played ok and we’ve had some days where we haven’t played well and still won,” Murphy said. “Three and three start is ok, we know we’re better than this. We’re just gonna keep fighting through this until we find that spot where we click on all cylinders.”

The Indians will try to get back on track Monday evening when they open a three game series with the San Diego Padres at Progressive Field. Corey Kluber (0-1, 13.50) will try to rectify his poor performance from his first outing against San Diego’s Robbie Erlin (0-0, 0.00) at 7:05 pm.

Photo: Jason Miller/Getty Images

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