CLEVELAND -- What appeared to be a minor fielding miscue by Indians outfielder Tyler Naquin in the second inning Tuesday had lasting consequences for Indians starter Shane Bieber.Naquin, a right fielder by nature, was playing center when a line drive scorched off the bat by Pirates left fielder Corey Dickerson
CLEVELAND -- What appeared to be a minor fielding miscue by Indians outfielder Tyler Naquin in the second inning Tuesday had lasting consequences for Indians starter Shane Bieber.
Naquin, a right fielder by nature, was playing center when a line drive scorched off the bat by Pirates left fielder Corey Dickerson brought a shallow-playing Naquin all the way to the warning track, where the ball nicked off Naquin's glove, resulting in a two-run triple.
"It's a hard play," manager Terry Francona said. "I think he could make it a little easier if he, and he's still working on it, [got] back behind it. That's a lot easier said than done, but he ended up making it probably even tougher."
Rather than being the third out, the play kept the door open for a five-run frame, resulting in a 9-4 loss at Progressive Field, marking the third straight for the Indians (54-46), while the Pirates (53-49) have won 11 in a row.
After the miscue, Bieber (5-2) couldn't recover and was unable to navigate the second, lasting just 1 2/3 innings, surrendering seven earned runs and seven hits. It was the worst start of the rookie's professional career.
"I just wasn't good enough," Bieber said. "I didn't really give the team a chance to win from the get-go. I don't really have a choice, I've got to be better. I've got to learn from it, grow from it and be better next time."
Bieber also allowed a double to Dickerson in the first before Starling Marte sent his 16th homer of the season into the left-field seats to give the Bucs an early 2-0 lead. Trouble escalated for Bieber the next inning after letting the first three Pirates reach to start the frame, followed by Dickerson's triple, an RBI single from Marte -- which scored Dickerson -- and a two-run homer from Gregory Polanco, bringing home Marte and knocking Bieber out of the game.
Though Bieber has been praised by Indians personnel since his May 31 callup for poise and an intuitive strike-throwing ability, Francona said it was clear the right-hander was lacking fastball command from the beginning.
Bieber, who last pitched in the Majors on July 13 against the Yankees, assured he wasn't battling any rust, since he played through the All-Star break with Triple-A Columbus to stay on schedule. Bieber just insisted he couldn't figure out the sizzling Pirates offense, which has outscored opponents 76-24 during their streak.
"I think a lot of things were an issue," Bieber said. "We tried to go out there and do what we've been doing and pitch like I've been pitching, but I wasn't able to do that today.
"They're a good team, they're a hot team, so they took advantage of mistakes. Instead of getting better as the game went on, I got worse as the inning got longer and longer and stuff started to creep up. My stuff started to feel a little bit straighter, a little bit further up in the zone, and they made me pay for it."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Musgrove overpowers Tribe bats: The Tribe manufactured a run in the first off Pirates starter Joe Musgrove (4-4), who was otherwise solid the rest of the way, giving up two runs and five hits across seven innings. Francisco Lindor doubled off Musgrove to lead off the first, and moved to third on a bunt from Michael Brantley before scoring on a Jose Ramirez groundout. The only other damage against Musgrove came in the fourth, off a solo shot from Edwin Encarnacion -- the designated hitter's 23rd.
Brandon Guyer, who pinch-hit for Brantley in the eighth, added another run for the Indians with a one-out solo homer off reliever Steven Brault. The Tribe pushed their last run across in the ninth, after Naquin scored from first on a two-out pinch-hit double by Erik Gonzalez.
Francona said he was impressed by Musgrove, who collected his best start against an American League opponent this year.
"He's a tall kid and kind of leverages his fastball down and then just spins the breaking ball off of it," Francona said. "They kind of come as advertised. You know, they give up a hit an inning, but they throw strikes and compete and give them a chance to win."
Bullpen holds it together: Following Bieber's departure, Francona used six pitchers to finish out the game, including recently acquired relief ace Brad Hand and right-handed specialist Adam Cimber, both making their home debut after being obtained in a trade last Thursday with the Padres.
The Tribe's bullpen combined for 7 1/3 innings, allowing two runs -- both coming off a Josh Bell home run allowed by Neil Ramirez -- and seven hits. Francona said aside from Ramirez, who pitched two innings, he expects everyone else who pitched to be available for the series finale Wednesday.
"Other than the home run, they actually did a pretty good job in a game where you're worried about not just finishing the game but tomorrow," Francona said. "And we're actually OK."
Over Ramirez's last seven innings, he's allowed eight runs for a 10.29 ERA, with nine strikeouts, four walks and four home runs. In the 17 games Ramirez appeared in from May 28-July 6, he threw 15 1/3 innings without allowing a run, with 16 punchouts, five walks and six hits.
Francona said Ramirez's struggles of late have stemmed from trouble finding an effective breaking ball.
"His breaking ball, when he got hot and on a good run, his breaking ball was really becoming effective," Francona said. "For some reason sometimes it morphs into either, like a curveball or a cutter, as opposed to the slider. … When he has that pitch, it seems like everything else falls into place."
Right-hander Trevor Bauer (8-6, 2.44 ERA) is scheduled to take the mound on Wednesday, when the Indians host the Pirates at 1:10 p.m. ET at Progressive Field. Bauer surrendered four runs and nine hits, ending with seven strikeouts and five walks, in a no-decision last time out against the Rangers. The Pirates will counter with right-hander Jameson Taillon (7-7, 3.80).
Casey Harrison is a reporter for MLB.com based in Cleveland. You can follow him on Twitter @Casey_Harrison1