With the looming return of Roberto Hernandez, it would behoove the Indians two back end starters – Josh Tomlin and Derek Lowe – to start pitching better. One of them is going to lose their job, if not both of them. When asked after the game about his starting pitching issues, Manager Manny Acta told the media “Of course we need pitching help. Everyone knows that. It’s a priority.” Then asked if more help would be on the way, he responded by saying “We’re working on it.”
That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for Lowe or Tomlin. Then again, neither was Lowe’s start last night, another in a long line of poor outings which could lead to his undoing. At least Tomlin has shown some sort of life of late. The 39-year old veteran looks like he is on his last legs after taking another loss last night.
Right off the bat, the Tigers were all over him. Austin Jackson, Quentin Berry, and Miguel Cabrera all singled to start the game and in the blink of an eye the Indians were down 1-0. In the second inning, Alex Avila laced a one out double. Omar Infante then hit a groundball to short in which Asdrubal Cabrera’s throw pulled Casey Kotchman off the bag for an error. Replays showed that Kotchman actually got his foot back on the bag in time. But the Tigers were back in business.
Jackson’s grounder into the hole between short and third was snagged by Cabrera, but his only play was to second. His throw was wide of Jason Kipnis and ended up in shallow right field. It was his second error of the inning and allowed Avila to score. Berry followed with a single scoring Infante and the Tigers led 3-0.
It looked as though the Indians were going to make it a game in the third against hard-throwing righty Max Scherzer. Johnny Damon worked a leadoff walk, bringing Casey Kotchman to the plate. The Tribe’s first baseman jacked a two-run shot to right-center and just like that, it was a one run game. After Jack Hannahan K’d (the Indians could really use the bat of Lonnie Chisenhall right about now – Hannahan has sunk to .235/.302/.652), Shin-Soo Choo narrowly missed a home by a couple of feet, instead settling for a double. Scherzer came back to strike out Cabrera for the second out and got Brantley on a deep fly ball to the warning track in right to end the threat.
Lowe seemed to be settling back in, but in the fifth, his wildness reappeared. Like they did in the first, Jackson, Berry, and Cabrera all reached base except this time, Lowe walked all three to load the bases with nobody out. Prince Fielder drove in a run with a sacrifice fly to extend the Detroit lead to 4-2, but that is all they would get. Lowe managed to wiggle his way out of another jam and came back out for the sixth inning.
Avila singled and moved to third on two straight groundballs. With two outs, Berry got him for his third hit of the game, an RBI single past a diving Hannahan at third. Lowe was lifted after six innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on eight hits, he walked three and struck out just one.
Lowe’s struggles aren’t going away. He is a shell of the pitcher who was so good in April and parts of May. Over his past 11 starts, Derek has allowed 52 earned runs in 58 innings (8.07 ERA) and given up 83 hits. Those are brutal numbers.
“I’ve played this game too long to be searching,” Lowe said. “I’ve struggled numerous times in my career. I guess it affects you because you’re not pitching the way you’d like, but by no means do you go out there and think you’re not going to get the job done.”
Even as average as Lowe was, the offense didn’t exactly do their part to help out. Against Scherzer the Indians managed just three hits, one of which was a Brantley fly ball that Jackson lost in the sky and bounced off the warning track for a ground rule double in the sixth. He stole third with one out, but was stranded there by Carlos Santana (popout) and Travis Hafner (strikeout).
They added a run in the ninth off of Tigers closer Jose Valverde on a Hafner solo homer, but it was too little too late. It was also typical Hafner. He struck out the previous three times, (including when Brantley was on third) moving his already pathetic average with runners in scoring position down to .129 (8-62). While Acta says the Indians need pitching help, the bats are also a serious problem.
In 11 of the past 13 games, the Indians have scored three runs or less. As Acta put it when asked about Lowe’s performance “We didn’t score enough runs to win the ballgame anyways.”
The loss moves the Indians back to .500 at 49-49, four games back of both the Tigers and the Chicago White Sox. Unfortunately tonight, they face a daunting task, even for a great offense. Reigning MVP and Cy Young award winner Justin Verlander (11-5, 2.42 ERA) takes the mound for the Tigers. The Indians will send out their most consistent pitcher of late, Zach McAllister (4-2, 3.21 ERA) to face him.