CLEVELAND -- In one respect, Indians starter Mike Clevinger was enjoying one of the best outings of his young career on Monday night. The right-hander was piling up the strikeouts, overpowering Cincinnati's lineup in powerful bursts.
The problem was that when Clevinger did not miss the Reds' bats, damage ensued. Each mistake made by the right-hander was magnified as the Indians struggled to solve Cincinnati pitcher Anthony DeSclafani. The Tribe struck for four runs in the ninth, but could not complete the comeback in a 7-5 loss at Progressive Field.
"They are really hot right now. I don't want to downplay what they're doing over there," Clevinger said. "But, it was almost like I was leading them to their barrel. … I made good pitches, but it seemed like every single one was under a magnifying glass, every miss. That inconsistency can't happen."
Over six-plus innings of work, Clevinger equaled a career high with 11 strikeouts, which gave him 110 punchouts on the season. That made Clevinger only the 15th pitcher in club history (35 times overall) to reach at least 110 strikeouts in a first half. Fellow starters Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer also reached that plateau this year.
That's where the silver lining ended.
"He made some mistakes with his fastball, and he paid for that," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "But, he had a lot of swing-and-miss, too, especially with his breaking ball. It's just, we're going to have slow them down a little bit, because they're so ultra-aggressive."
The Reds, who boast one of the hotter offenses in baseball right now, went 7-for-13 in the at-bats that did not end in a strikeout against Clevinger. The starter put the leadoff hitter aboard in each of the first four innings. In the second and fourth, Clevinger did so with a walk, and both eventually came around to score.
Tucker Barnhart knocked in one run with a double in the second and brought another in with a single in the fourth. Jesse Winker contributed an RBI double off Clevinger in the fourth inning, and Joey Votto drilled an opposite-field home run in the fifth. After Clevinger left the game in the seventh, one more run was tacked on to his line courtesy of an RBI single by Scott Schebler.
The Reds put the game away in the ninth, when Schebler, who went 4-for-5 with three RBIs, launched a two-run homer off Indians reliever Josh Tomlin.
"It's frustrating," said Tomlin, who has yielded 21 home runs in 49 innings this season. "I'll come back tomorrow and try to find a way to get better. That's the only thing I can do, just try to figure out what I'm doing -- either mentally, physically, whatever the case may be -- and try to get it figured out as quickly as I can."
Complicating matters for the Tribe was the lack of situational hitting against the Reds.
DeSclafani logged seven innings, in which his lone setback was a solo home run to right off the bat of Yonder Alonso, his 13th of the season. The righty sidestepped trouble throughout the rest of his outing. Cleveland went 0-for-9 with runners on base against DeSclafani in the loss.
In the ninth inning, Jason Kipnis snapped an 0-for-17 skid with runners on base for the Indians -- going back to the sixth inning on Sunday -- by yanking a pitch from Reds reliever Amir Garrett out to right for a two-run homer. Francisco Lindor (sacrifice fly) and Michael Brantley (RBI double) kept the rally going, but closer Raisel Iglesias struck out Jose Ramirez to end the game.
"If you can get the tying run to the plate, especially with Jose hitting, you give yourself a chance," Francona said. "You want to win. If you don't win, you want to certainly make them use their closer. Maybe it helps us win tomorrow or the next day."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
The right stuff: With two outs and a runner on first in the first inning, Scooter Gennett ripped a fastball from Clevinger to deep right field with an exit velocity of 101.9 mph, per Statcast™. What looked like an RBI extra-base hit turned into a highlight-reel defensive play. Tribe right fielder Tyler Naquin sprinted to his left and used an all-out dive to snare the ball before it reached the ground. When Naquin rose to his feet to cheers from the home crowd, he had dirt from the warning track caked across his uniform.
"You're going to see one to three of those a year like that," Clevinger said. "I'm just grateful it's always when I'm on the mound, it seems like. I don't want that to get overlooked. They play so hard behind me it seems like, every time I'm out there, and I always appreciate that. Without them, with whatever punchouts, I would've had six or seven earned runs if they weren't going all out for me."
Billy runs wild: Clevinger exited after allowing a leadoff single to Billy Hamilton, who slashed a pitch into left field to end the starter's night. While lefty Marc Rzepczynski faced Schebler, the fleet-footed Hamilton bolted for second, and catcher Yan Gomes' throw sailed into center, allowing the runner to sprint to third. Schebler followed with a single into right-center field, plating Hamilton to put the Indians behind, 5-1.
MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
Ramirez pulled a pitch from DeSclafani sharply to the right side of the infield, where the ball deflected off the glove of Votto at first. Gennett was ranging to his left to back Votto up, but stopped and lunged against his momentum, grabbing the baseball with his bare hand. From a knee, the second baseman fired the ball back to Votto for an impressive inning-ending out. The Indians challenged that Ramirez beat the throw, but the initial call stood following a replay review.
Votto's home run gave him 14 career blasts against the Indians, marking the fourth most in Interleague Play history for a batter against a single opponent. Paul Konerko holds the record with 20 against the Cubs, followed by Barry Bonds (18 vs. A's) and Jose Pujols (16 vs. Royals). Votto is tied on that list with Aramis Ramirez (14 vs. White Sox).
All-Star Trevor Bauer is scheduled to take the mound for the Indians on Tuesday, when the Tribe hosts the Reds in a 7:10 p.m. ET Interleague clash at Progressive Field. The righty has a 2.05 ERA with 99 strikeouts vs. 16 walks in 70 1/3 innings in his last 10 turns for Cleveland. Cincinnati will counter with righty Sal Romano (5-8, 5.40 ERA).