August 21, 2014

Medina
Mostly cloudy
82°F

McAllister struggles again

Chris Assenheimer

The Gazette

CLEVELAND — The Indians played nine innings Friday night at Progressive Field, but they only competed for one of them.

Nick Swisher hit a solo home run in the first inning — a rare occurrence in itself — but it was all downhill from there as Cleveland was clubbed 11-1 in the series opener against Oakland.

The Indians’ inconsistent offense scuffled again, but it was a brief and ineffective outing from starting pitcher Zach McAllister that put the rout wheels in motion. And it came out of nowhere.

McAllister opened the game by striking out the side on 16 pitches, then shockingly was unable to get anybody out. The first five Oakland hitters in the second inning reached base — four on hits — before Josh Reddick landed the initial big blow with a grand slam that put the A’s in front 5-1.

McAllister was able to get an out before walking the next two hitters and surrendering another homer — a three-run shot from Josh Donaldson that put the game away.

McAllister lasted just 1⅓ innings, accounting for the shortest outing of his career.

“The first inning he came out really good. He threw some of his better breaking balls,” manager Terry Francona said. “In the second inning he lost his feel for his off-speed (pitches) and he wasn’t locating his fastball and it created a really tough inning.

“In the second inning of a game you want to give a guy the chance to get through, maybe he can gather himself, but it just wasn’t happening.”

“I fell behind and they were able to put some balls in play and hit balls hard,” McAllister said. “I left balls over the middle when I was behind, and they did damage.

“There’s always little things that throughout the game you have to work on as a starting pitcher. It’s usually never the same thing every single time. It’s always something a little different that you have to deal with and make that adjustment. Tonight, I wasn’t able to make any adjustments.”

Since beginning the season 3-0 with a 2.28 ERA in four starts, McAllister has fallen on hard times, going 0-4 with an 8.72 ERA over his last five outings — 21 earned runs in 21⅔ innings.

“He’s going to have to be strong enough to look at the numbers right now,” Francona said. “They’re not where he wants them to be — and remember how good he is. What’s happened, happened. He’s got to be strong enough mentally to understand that he is a good pitcher. It might take it awhile to get that ERA where he’s comfortable, but that doesn’t mean he can’t win.”

“I know I haven’t pitched my best,” said McAllister, who is 3-4 with a 5.36 ERA. “That’s part of baseball. Obviously you’re going to have peaks and valleys. Right now I’m down, as far as the way I’ve been pitching lately. I know I have to get back to that middle ground and pitch better.”

Oakland hit four homers on the night, while the Indians managed just three hits.

A’s shortstop Jed Lowrie connected on a solo shot off Kyle Crockett to start the third inning. Crockett was making his big-league debut after being promoted from Double-A Akron prior to the game. Reddick hit his second homer off Carlos Carrasco in the seventh.

The run support was plenty for A’s starter Sonny Gray, who was facing the Indians for the second time after starting on opening day in Oakland.

Gray shook off Swisher’s long ball in the first and shut down Cleveland, allowing just two hits and striking out nine over six innings to improve to 5-1 with a 2.10 ERA.

“He’s a pretty special pitcher,” Francona said of the A’s 5-foot-11, 180-pound ace. “He’s not the biggest guy in the world but he can cut it, sink it, breaking ball. Then when you get a lead like he had, it kind of plays right into it. He’d get to two strikes and he’d just put us away.

“He’s got so many weapons — a big breaking ball and he’s got a fastball with movement, and he commands so well.”

On the first fireworks night of the season, the Indians drew 21,389 fans, accounting for the largest crowd since the sold-out home opener.

Contact Chris Assenheimer at (440) 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com.