ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – At first, it looked like Josh Tomlin was the problem.
For one inning he was, because by the time that inning was over, the Rays had more than enough runs, as they beat the Indians 5-0 Friday night at Tropicana Field.
But this loss was a team effort. As in the entire lineup had no clue how to squeeze a run out of left-hander David Price, who came into the game with modest 5-4 record and 3.89 ERA.
Regardless of the numbers, Price is regarded as the ace of the staff. As far as the Indians are concerned, he absolutely ranks No. 1.
“He was the same like always,” said Orlando Cabrera, who singled and walked. “He’s kind of tough for a lot of the guys. He controls both sides of the plate, and he mixes up his pitches pretty well. The left-handed guys in our lineup hit lefties pretty good. But Price is one of the guys at the top.”
Price (6-4, 3.54 ERA) has faced the Indians twice this season, and it’s been a mismatch each time, particularly Friday night, when he established a career best in strikeouts with 12. He delivered eight masterful innings, allowing four hits and two walks.
Only three runners reached second against Price, and he ended five innings with strikeouts, not taking any chances on his patsies making contact when there might be a runner or two on base. Actually, in only one inning, did he allow two baserunners.
Manager Manny Acta doesn’t think his club is more vulnerable to Price than other teams.
“He’s just very good,” Acta said. “I don’t think it has anything to do with our lineup. He’s a left-hander who throws in the mid-90s. When he commands that cutter and curveball (in addition to his fastball), he can do anything he wants.
“The last time he faced us, he threw mostly fastballs. Tonight, he threw all his pitches.”
Matt LaPorta was Price’s primary victim, striking out four times.
“He knew in my second at-bat that I wasn’t hitting the fastball very well, so he kept throwing it,” LaPorta said.
To add insult to injury, Tampa Bay defenders executed three saving plays: Sam Fuld made a tough catch on Michael Brantley’s liner to left in the third inning; shortstop Sean Rodriguez took a hit away from Austin Kearns with a diving stop in the fifth, and Fuld ran about three miles to catch up to Orlando Cabrera’s drive to the left-field track in the eighth.
“That’s what the game is all about, pitching and defense,” Acta said. “That’s pretty much what we’ve been doing: throwing strikes and catching the ball.”
Granted, Price got a little help from his friends, but he didn’t need much. There is something about the Indians that turns him into a combination of Sandy Koufax and Warren Spahn. His 2011 ERA against the Indians is 1.20; against the rest of baseball, it is 4.11.
For the first time this season, Tomlin (6-2, 2.74 ERA) gave up four runs. He kept his streak of five-inning-plus starts alive, pitching six innings and running the string to 22 starts, beginning with his MLB debut last year.
But that achievement was of little consolation to the Indians’ struggles against the Rays, who have won three in a row, including the last two in Cleveland earlier this month.
Tomlin yielded 10 hits but did not walk a batter. Five of the hits came in the second inning, which ranks as his worst of the season. It was as if Rays batters knew what pitches were coming – and liked them.
“In the first inning, I was trying to hit the corner and the ball would end up in the middle of the plate,” Tomlin said. “In the second, I tried to pick and that’s when I got in trouble. You can’t aim it. That’s what I think I was doing.”
Matt Joyce led off the second with a double and one out later, Casey Kotchman hit his second home run of the season. Rodriguez then beat out a hit to shortstop, and Fuld homered for only the third time this year.
John Jaso followed with a bloop single to left but was thrown out trying to stretch it, and Tomlin showed signs of regaining control of the situation by striking out Ben Zobrist.
But it was too little, too late the way Price was dominating the Indians’ lineup. After the second inning, Tomlin gave up four singles but no runs over the next four innings, and one of the hits was a bunt by Fuld.
Sizemore activated, moved down order
The Cleveland Indians activated outfielder Grady Sizemore from the 15-day disabled list.
The move was made before Friday night’s game at Tampa Bay. Sizemore had been on the DL with a bruised right kneecap he injured making a hard, late slide into second base May 10.
Sizemore was the DH for the game with the Rays, something Cleveland manager Manny Acta said will be the case throughout the three-game series. Sizemore was dropped from his normal leadoff spot to sixth in the lineup.
“Grady hasn’t played in two weeks, so he’s got to get his timing down a little bit,” Acta said. “We’re going to put him back there for a few days up until he gets his timing down and we’ll move him back.”
Acta didn’t rule out Sizemore playing the field once in the Indians’ next series at Toronto, which also has artifical turf like Tropicana Field.
Facing a tough left-handed starter in Tampa Bay’s David Price, Acta also moved slumping clean-up batter Carlos Santana to seventh in the order.
“After the first, like, 20 games of last year he’s been pitched like Babe Ruth,” Acta said. “He earned their respect pretty quick. Now he has to make the adjustment, he knows that. You have to learn the league, learn the sequences and just to also realize at times you’re going to have take what they give him.”
• WHO: Cleveland at Tampa Bay
• TIME: 4:10
• WHERE: Tropicana Field, St. Petersburg, Fla.
• PITCHERS: Carrasco (3-2, 5.16 ERA) vs. Shields (5-2, 2.00)
• TV/RADIO: SportsTime Ohio, MLB; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM