CLEVELAND – Maybe last place is where the Indians belong. It sure looked like it Thursday night at Progressive Field.
Facing the fourth-place Royals and unheralded starting pitcher Sean O’Sullivan, Cleveland played like a certified basement resident, dropping a 4-2 decision in the opener of a four-game series between the bottom two teams in the Central Division.
The loss left the Royals 1½ games ahead of the Indians in the standings and a bad taste in Indians manager Manny Acta’s mouth, following another offensively-challenged night for his club.
“We continue to struggle offensively,” said Acta, whose team managed just five hits. “When you’re swinging the bat that way, it’s tough to play catch up, and that’s what we had to do from the get-go.”
All the credit for that goes to Indians starter Mitch Talbot, who was making his first appearance since Sept. 12.
Talbot, who missed a start with right shoulder inflammation, lasted just five innings, allowing three runs on five hits and three walks. The right-hander surrendered a home run to the second batter he faced – Mike Aviles – in a two-run first inning for Kansas City.
Talbot allowed another run in the third before finding a groove in his final two innings of work, retiring the side in order in both the fourth and fifth.
“The good news is that he’s fine physically,” Acta said of Talbot, who also spent a little over two weeks on the disabled list with a mid-back strain at the end of July. “He pitched like a guy that had been off awhile.”
“Physically, I felt great, probably better than 95 percent of my other starts this year,” Talbot said. “I feel great. I just don’t know where I’m throwing it.”
A three-run cushion was sufficient for O’Sullivan, who entered the night with a 2-6 record and 6.58 ERA with the Angels and Royals.
The right-hander allowed two runs on just four hits over six innings. It was the fewest runs he has surrendered in 11 starts for Kansas City since being acquired in a trade with Los Angeles.
“We continue to put too much pressure on our pitchers,” Acta said. “We need to break out and score some runs.”
The Indians’ best opportunity against O’Sullivan came in the third after Luis Valbuena drew a leadoff walk. He was erased when Lou Marson grounded into a double play, but Trevor Crowe singled and Drew Sutton followed with a walk to put runners on first and second. Shin-Soo Choo struck out to end the threat.
The Indians scratched for two runs in the seventh to close within a run, but reliever Tony Sipp gave the Royals an insurance run in the eighth, serving up a solo home run to the first batter he faced, Kia Ka’aihue, which provided the final count.
The Indians got a big night from Trevor Crowe, who was a late addition to the lineup when Michael Brantley was scratched with tightness in his left hamstring.
Crowe went 3-for-4 with a double and is batting .405 (15-for-37) with four doubles over his last 11 games. He also stole a career-high two bases, bringing his season total to 18.
Cleveland’s Vinnie Pestano made a positive big league debut in the ninth inning. The right-hander, who was called up from Triple-A Columbus prior to the game, walked one but pitched a scoreless inning.
The teams combined to go 0-for-17 with runners in scoring position, Cleveland going 0-for-6.
The Indians fell to 0-26 when they record five hits or fewer, while dropping to 4-49 when scoring two runs or fewer.
Kansas City leads the season series 8-7.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org.