DETROIT -- The Indians know they need to do something about their laboring bullpen. Over the next weeks and coming months, examining how the situation can be resolved will be a top priority for the team's front office.
In the meantime, Cleveland is trying to overcome an extremely trying period due to the inconsistency coming through the bullpen door. On Tuesday night against the Tigers, the issues persisted in a 9-8 loss, which featured a five-run outburst by Detroit in the seventh against Andrew Miller and Dan Otero.
"We want to do better. I think we have the ability," Miller said. "I haven't done my job the last few times out. We're working on it. We're looking for whatever it is that makes us tick and makes us get through it, because we need to be a big part of this team."
For most of the season's first month, Cleveland's bullpen rated as one of the best in baseball, ranking fourth in the Majors with a 2.55 ERA on April 23. Over the 21 games that followed, the relief corps turned in a 9.16 ERA (59 earned runs in 58 innings), dropping the group's overall ERA to an MLB-high 5.79.
Over the offseason, the Indians saw setup men Bryan Shaw and Joe Smith depart via free agency, and they both found lucrative contracts. Working with financial constraints, Cleveland focused on collecting arms via Minor League contracts and trusting that the bullpen pieces in place could build on last year's success (MLB-best 2.89 ERA).
Now, the team is sorting through how it can solve the current crisis.
"In terms of doing things in the near term, the likelihood of that is low," said Chris Antonetti, the Indians' president of baseball operations, prior to Tuesday's game. "Any trade of consequence, it's very rare that those happen in May or June. The bulk of our solutions are going to come from guys within the organization already.
"But, we are actively in the process of planning for those next few months and trying to assess which players might be available and could potentially help our team. Part of that, those needs can change over time. That's why we try to be pretty comprehensive looking at what options might be out there for us to improve."
In the latest setback for the 'pen, Miller took over for Otero with a runner on first, one out and Cleveland clinging to an 8-6 lead in the seventh. The Tribe's relief ace -- still working to regain his rhythm after a recent stint on the disabled list -- immediately allowed back-to-back RBI doubles to JaCoby Jones and Pete Kozma, pulling the game into an 8-8 deadlock.
Following a flyout, Miller then issued three consecutive walks, bringing in the go-ahead run and sinking Cleveland to a 20-21 record.
"It looked like he was trying to find his arm slot," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "He was scattering fastballs. He left some breaking balls up. We knew he wouldn't be in midseason form. It's easier to say that before the game. But, down deep, we knew he was going to have to pitch to be the Andrew Miller [we know]. And he'll get there. It's just, on nights like this, it hurts."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
A costly choice: With one out and a runner on third base in the seventh, Dixon Machado sent a grounder to shortstop Francisco Lindor. James McCann broke for home from third and Lindor opted to throw to catcher Yan Gomes instead of taking the out at first. The throw one-hopped Gomes and skipped away, allowing the run to score and Machado to reach safely on the fielder's choice. That cut Cleveland's lead to 8-6, led to Miller's entrance and contributed to the inning's unraveling.
"I don't think he had a [good angle to throw to first]," Francona said. "The play's at first, but the way his momentum was going, that [throwing home] might've been the only play he had."
Bookend blasts: Indians starter Josh Tomlin's outing began in the first with a leadoff homer from Jones and ended with a solo shot by Nicholas Castellanos with one out in the sixth. Between those shots, giving Tomlin 15 home runs allowed in 31 innings, the righty was effective enough and exited in line for a win.
"I made a few mistakes early in the game and then one late in the game," Tomlin said. "It ended up costing me some extra pitches to get deeper into the game. For the most part, I felt pretty good."
Comeback grounded: After the Tigers took a one-run lead in the seventh, the Indians had a great scoring chance in the top of the eighth. Jose Ramirez led off with a double and lefty Daniel Stumpf followed with back-to-back walks to load the bases with no outs. Following a mound visit, Stumpf struck out Brandon Guyer and generated an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play from Jason Kipnis to escape unscathed.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
One silver lining for the Tribe was a strong showing from the offense, which chased Tigers lefty Francisco Liriano after 4 1/3 innings. The biggest blow came off the bat of Guyer, who launched his first career grand slam in the first inning against the left-hander. It marked the fourth slam of the season for the Indians.
HE SAID IT
"We've got to get better, No. 1. And then No. 2 is, the teams that come out of adversity, like we're facing right now, usually end up being better for it in the long run. We understand it takes 25 men to try to get to where we want to go. That's not going to change." --Tomlin, on the Indians' struggles
Right-hander Trevor Bauer (2-3, 3.00 ERA) is scheduled to take the mound for the Tribe on Wednesday, when the Tigers host the Indians in a 1:10 p.m. ET tilt at Comerica Park. Bauer is 5-5 with a 7.26 ERA in 13 career games against Detroit and has a 6.38 ERA in four career appearances in the Motor City. The Tigers will counter with rookie lefty Ryan Carpenter.