CLEVELAND — The Indians dropped a game Monday to fellow American League wild-card competitor Baltimore. That’s bad.
They also lost their ace, Justin Masterson. That’s worse.
Kicking off a crucial homestand in highly forgettable fashion, Cleveland was pummeled 7-2 by the Orioles. Masterson departed in the second inning after sustaining an injury to his left side.
Masterson is scheduled to undergo an MRI today, but said after the game that he didn’t feel the injury was serious.
“There wasn’t any pull or anything,” said Masterson, whose early departure paved the way for Cleveland’s sixth loss in seven games. “Hopefully the good lord performs a miracle and touches my side.”
Masterson said he felt soreness in the side before taking the mound for the second inning. After a handful of pitches that barely broke 80 mph, manager Terry Francona and trainers visited the mound. The pitcher stayed in the game, but was removed for good after allowing a single to Matt Wieters to start the inning.
“He wasn’t letting it go,” Francona said. “Guys want to pitch and want to play, but we didn’t like what we were seeing. It was time to get him out of there.”
“I don’t know how I did it,” Masterson said. “I felt great in the bullpen and I was actually excited for today. It must have just tightened up on me. I couldn’t get through a pitch. It just wasn’t going to work.”
The Orioles scored three times in the second inning, and then plated two more in the fourth on a home run from Nate McLouth off reliever Nick Hagadone to go up 5-0.
Solo homers from Jason Kipnis (seventh inning) and Lonnie Chisenhall (eighth) accounted for Cleveland’s scoring, with Wieters connecting on a two-run shot off left-hander Marc Rzepcyznski to cap the scoring in the ninth.
The Indians employed eight pitchers.
Pitching wasn’t a problem for Baltimore, which got a sparkling performance from right-hander Bud Norris.
Norris, a trade-deadline acquisition from the Astros, didn’t allow a run over the first six innings, limiting scuffling Indians hitters to just two hits over the span. He allowed one run on Chisenhall’s homer on four hits while striking out eight over seven innings.
“He had a scheduled start against our offense,” Kipnis said when asked what made Norris effective. “We’re digging our own hole right now. It’s almost like we’re trying too hard. We’re going about it the wrong way.”
The Indians’ anemic offense has generated little as of late. Over its last 25 games (10-15), Cleveland has scored three runs or fewer in 16 of them. The Indians have been outscored 32-16 over their last seven games against contenders Atlanta, Detroit and Baltimore.
Still, even with things going decidedly in the wrong direction, Cleveland was four games out of the race for the final wild-card spot after its latest loss, with Baltimore entering the day three games off the pace.
The Indians are still alive in the playoff race, but losing Masterson for an extended spell would deal a significant blow to the second-place team — even if the pitcher himself is keeping the faith.
“I think over the next 25 games or whatever it is you’re going to see these guys battle,” Masterson said. “It doesn’t matter whether I’m here or not.”
“It’s hard to quantify (how much Masterson means to our team),” Francona said. “He’s our best pitcher. You can either feel sorry for yourself or find a way to shine. Hopefully our guys will keep fighting.”
Contact Chris Assenheimer at (440) 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter @CAwesomeheimer.