CLEVELAND -- For as stellar as the Indians' starting pitching has been, the bullpen has somehow been even better. The offense has struggled to get into a rhythm all season, but the pitching staff has consistently been there to minimize the damage to give the bats a chance. But this plan didn't pan out in the Tribe's favor on Friday night.
Indians starter Carlos Carrasco handed the ball over to his 'pen with the score tied after six innings, but it didn't take long for the game to slip away, as the Brewers put up six runs off the Tribe's relief corps in Cleveland's 7-1 loss at Progressive Field.
Entering Friday night, the Indians' bullpen had posted a 2.49 ERA, which was third-best in the Majors. Phil Maton had played a huge role in that success, only having permitted one run in his first 12 1/3 frames of the year. But the 27-year-old ran into trouble for the first time this season after a leadoff walk led to an RBI double by Keston Hiura.
"He was leaving the ball up," Indians temporary manager Sandy Alomar Jr. said of Maton. "He didn't have a lot of bite on the ball."
"They were taking good swings off of [Maton] and we had Ollie ready for Yelich in that situation," Alomar said. "Unfortunately, that play was a weird bounce there and all hell broke loose.
"It was a chopper and Carlos went to kind of snag it and the ball just stayed down. It was a weird bounce, but yeah, that's an opportunity for us to get out of the inning there. Unfortunately, it didn't go our way."
Although a four-run lead was safe against an offense that manufactured just four hits, scoring its lone run of the game on a throwing error, the night turned even more uncharacteristically dark for the Tribe's bullpen when James Karinchak gave up his first career home run on a 94.9 mph heater to Hiura.
"He had two types of breaking balls, which is kind of effective when you throw it in that area," Alomar said. "When you have that one that is ball-to-strike because it's big, it's good. If you have the one that is strike-to-ball, it's even better. Right now, it's ball-to-ball, so it's very hard for him to adjust -- and guys are sitting on that fastball."
Though the rookie reliever had fanned 35 of the 70 batters he had faced entering Friday, Karinchak has labored through his last three outings, allowing five runs in 2 1/3 frames (21.43 ERA) with four walks and six strikeouts.
"This is gonna happen with young guys," Alomar said. "You're gonna go through stretches like this. Not everybody is gonna come into the game and just throw goose eggs like everybody expects. He's going through a process right now."
Though the bullpen has rarely played a role in the Tribe's losses this season, the offense once again struggled to pick up its pitching staff, going just 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position. But for a team looking for a silver lining on the night, Carrasco appeared to be back in his usual rhythm on the mound, allowing one run in six innings. And with just over three weeks remaining in the regular season in a tight division race, the Indians may need to lean on their starters even more than they already have this year.
"Feeling great," Carrasco said. "I've been working so hard between starts. When you do those little details right there, and that's what I've been doing right now, I think everything is going to start getting really good for you and good tempo. That's what we've had for the last two games."