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Clevinger can't escape trouble in loss to Astros

Indians righty throws 4 scoreless innings before stumbling in 5th, 6th
MLB.com

CLEVELAND -- Against the likes of Charlie Morton and an elite Astros rotation, runs were likely going to come at a premium for Indians hitters in this four-game series. And for Tribe starter Mike Clevinger, he knew minimizing mistakes would be needed to give the Indians their best bet at a win in the opener Thursday.

Unfortunately for Clevinger, an eventful fifth inning opened the door for a three-run home run by Astros third baseman Alex Bregman, tilting the game in Houston's direction in an eventual 8-2 loss for the Tribe at Progressive Field.

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CLEVELAND -- Against the likes of Charlie Morton and an elite Astros rotation, runs were likely going to come at a premium for Indians hitters in this four-game series. And for Tribe starter Mike Clevinger, he knew minimizing mistakes would be needed to give the Indians their best bet at a win in the opener Thursday.

Unfortunately for Clevinger, an eventful fifth inning opened the door for a three-run home run by Astros third baseman Alex Bregman, tilting the game in Houston's direction in an eventual 8-2 loss for the Tribe at Progressive Field.

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"He hung a breaking ball on the home run," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "But it's kind of what led up to that."

Clevinger, who was also unsuccessful in shaking off the American League West-leading Astros in his last start in Houston, was charged with five runs in 5 1/3 innings. He picked up his second straight loss, while the Indians (24-24) fell back to .500.

"I mean, they have a good approach, today especially," Clevinger said. "It was almost like one through nine was waiting on offspeed once I got ahead, just because that's obviously where we're going."

Tony Kemp started the Astros' fifth-inning rally by reaching on a hit-by-pitch with two outs. Clevinger then walked George Springer to set the table for Bregman, who cleared the left-field wall for his fifth homer of the season. Clevinger came back out for the sixth, but gave up a pair of singles -- which both came around to score -- before his night was over.

Video: HOU@CLE: Bregman launches a 3-run homer to left field

"Clevinger lived on the edge a lot of the game," Astros manager AJ Hinch said. "We hit some balls hard and obviously had a special inning. It's nice to break through and have some success after what we felt were some pretty good at-bats."

The right-hander ended the outing with four strikeouts and three walks. Clevinger is now 0-2 with a 6.17 ERA across his last two outings. All of Clevinger's shortcomings on Thursday came on his third trip through the lineup.

"Don't get me wrong, he has pitched so well that I think that's just the next step for him," said Francona. "It's understanding when you get to that point in the game, limiting damage, and putting a pitch behind you and moving on."

Video: HOU@CLE: Clevinger, Francona discuss loss to Astros

The Astros put up five more in the sixth inning, highlighted by a three-run shot by Jake Marisnick and an RBI double from Bregman, giving Houston an 8-2 lead. Francona was forced to use four pitchers -- Clevinger, Tyler Olson, Neil Ramirez and Oliver Drake -- to get through the rough frame.

Francona said executing pitch location is critical, especially against a talented lineup like Houston's.

"If the ball doesn't end up where it's supposed to, or you walk somebody or whatever, don't make a play, tonight's a really good example," Francona said. "They turned two into eight in a hurry."

Morton, who picked up a win his last time out against the Indians, improved to 7-0 after allowing five hits and three walks while striking out five over six innings. His lone blemish was a two-run single given up to Michael Brantley in the third inning.

MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Streaking at the plate: Brantley's lone hit was a single up the middle that scored Roberto Perez and Francisco Lindor. That extended the outfielder's hitting streak to 13 games, representing the longest active streak in the Majors. The grounder had just an 18 percent hit probability, according to Statcast™. Brantley is hitting .357 with four homers, 15 RBIs and 14 runs scored during the hit streak. More >

Video: HOU@CLE: Brantley plates 2 with a single to center

SOUND SMART
Brantley ended the evening 1-for-4 with three strikeouts. It marked the first time that the Indians outfielder struck out at least three times in a game since Sept. 14, 2013. Entering Thursday, Brantley had the second-lowest strikeout rate (7.4 percent) among qualified MLB hitters. He only has nine three-strikeout games in his career.

Video: HOU@CLE: Morton K's Brantley looking in the 1st

UP NEXT
Right-hander Corey Kluber will take the mound Friday in the second game of a four-game series against the Astros at Progressive Field, with first pitch set for 7:10 p.m. ET. Kluber faced the Astros in his last start on Saturday and picked up the win after allowing two runs on six hits in seven innings with 10 strikeouts. The Astros will counter with lefty Dallas Keuchel, who lost that game to Kluber and the Indians on Saturday.

Casey Harrison is a reporter for MLB.com based in Cleveland.

Cleveland Indians, Mike Clevinger