CLEVELAND -- The Indians expected some growing pains for their rotation this season. That makes having a leader such as Justin Masterson so important, because the big sinkerballer has a knack for using a strong outing to turn the page on a rough stretch.
Masterson was not immune to the recent pitching problems on Sunday.
Minnesota struck for six runs against Masterson, who put his offense in a considerable hole before bowing out of the contest before the end of the fourth inning. Cleveland's lineup gave a resilient effort to climb back into the ballgame, but fell short in a 10-7 defeat that sealed the loss of the three-game series in the first meeting of the year with the Twins.
"The guys battled," Masterson said. "They battled hard and put some runs on the board, gave us an opportunity, gave us a chance. Unfortunately, we didn't give them that opportunity to get the victory at the end of it."
Following an overpowering outing on Opening Day, when Masterson blanked the A's over seven innings, the right-hander surrendered six runs (five earned) in 3 2/3 innings against the Twins. Masterson scattered seven hits, walked three and hit two batters. His pitch count had climbed to 81 by the end of the third inning, and he was gone before the end of the fourth.
It was the latest in a string of disappointing performances from Cleveland's rotation.
Over the past five games, the Tribe's rotation has allowed 19 runs (17 earned) on 35 hits in 22 1/3 innings, which equates to a 7.66 ERA. During that span, a bulk of the damage has come in the first three innings (10.20 ERA), putting Cleveland's offense in early holes.
Indians manager Terry Francona cautioned against overreacting to five games in April.
"I don't think we get discouraged that easily," Francona said. "We're always trying to get better, that's for sure. I don't think that you start to give up on your guys on April 6. I'm not saying that we don't want to do better, regardless of when in the year. But I think you can rush to judgment and miss out on some really good players."
Throughout Masterson's outing, his fastball routinely registered around 87-90 mph, which is a dropoff from his typical level. The right-hander said the dip in pitch speed stemmed from the fact that he was trying anything to find the strike zone.
"We we're trying to make it happen," Masterson said. "It goes back to the fact that we're flying open quite a bit and not able to use anything, over-striding and trying to get the ball in there. It's like, 'What can we do to at least get it over the plate?' So we took off a lot today, just to try to get that sink in there, try to get a couple four-seamers in there.
The offense nearly overcame Masterson's missteps.
Catcher Yan Gomes hit a towering two-run home run off Twins starter Ricky Nolasco in the second, and Jason Kipnis used a three-run double in the fourth inning to cut Minnesota's lead to 6-5. In the fifth, David Murphy's run-scoring single -- one of four hits on the day -- pulled the game into a deadlock at 6. Nolasco was chased after four innings.
"It was a good showing," Murphy said of the Tribe's 15-hit performance. "We know what we're capable of and that was more like it today. Unfortunately, it didn't work out for us, but it was a great showing. Hopefully, we can build some momentum from that."
In the sixth inning, Cleveland right-hander Blake Wood took over on the mound and issued a one-out walk to Brian Dozier, who then stole second base. Wood opted to intentionally walk Joe Mauer, setting up a meeting with Jason Bartlett. The move backfired when Wood hit Bartlett with a pitch to load the bases.
The next hitter, Chris Colabello, capitalized with a three-run double off the wall in left-center field to put the Twins up for good.
"That was a tough inning," Francona said. "We're trying to get out of there with none and we give up multiple runs. That hurts, because we had just clawed back into it."
The Twins first struck for two runs in the second inning and added three more in the third. During the three-run outburst, Masterson opened things with a walk to Dozier and then Mauer singled. Two batters later, Colabello chopped a pitch in front of the plate with runners on the corners, and Gomes gloved the ball and fired it up the middle before an infielder moved to cover second base.
"I'm not sure our guys could get there that quick," Francona said. "It's a good hustle play, for sure, and it has a chance to end the inning, but I don't think our infielders had a chance to get there."
Gomes' throw skipped into center field for an error, allowing Dozier to score easily from third base. Trevor Plouffe and Jason Kubel then came through with back-to-back RBI singles to push Minnesota to a 5-2 lead. Colabello's RBI single in the fourth inning padded the Twins' cushion to four runs.
Aaron Hicks added an insurance run for the Twins when he plated Plouffe with a sacrifice fly in the ninth. Francona challenged the call -- it initially appeared as though Plouffe missed the plate on his slide -- but the run was confirmed after an instant-replay review.
"We thought there was a chance," Francona said.
Come Monday, right-hander Corey Kluber will try to turn the page on a forgettable week for the Indians' rotation. Masterson was not able to do that for Cleveland, but he has faith that the starting five will be able to bounce back from its recent showing.
"It's early," Masterson said. "We all get underneath, a little discombobulated. I think each and every one of us could say that somewhat. ... We're just not making the adjustments yet. I think we'll each do better as we continue to move on."