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Indians' bullpen struggles after Kluber's gem

Tribe ace fires 6 1/3 shutout innings, but Astros rally in 8th, pour it on in 9th
MLB.com @MLBastian

CLEVELAND -- It is becoming increasingly difficult to find another adjective to appropriately summarize the state of the Indians' bullpen. The best way to describe the situation is as a debilitating problem that needs to be solved if Cleveland is going to achieve all it wants to achieve this season.

On Friday night, things were aligned perfectly for the Tribe to notch one in the win column against the Astros. Corey Kluber pitched brilliantly into the seventh, setting things up for Andrew Miller and Cody Allen to apply the clamp on the reigning World Series champs. Things unraveled at the seams in swift fashion, however, sending the Indians spiraling to an 11-2 loss at Progressive Field.

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CLEVELAND -- It is becoming increasingly difficult to find another adjective to appropriately summarize the state of the Indians' bullpen. The best way to describe the situation is as a debilitating problem that needs to be solved if Cleveland is going to achieve all it wants to achieve this season.

On Friday night, things were aligned perfectly for the Tribe to notch one in the win column against the Astros. Corey Kluber pitched brilliantly into the seventh, setting things up for Andrew Miller and Cody Allen to apply the clamp on the reigning World Series champs. Things unraveled at the seams in swift fashion, however, sending the Indians spiraling to an 11-2 loss at Progressive Field.

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"I didn't do my part," Miller said. "And things kind of fell apart from there."

Beginning with Miller's struggles in the eighth, Cleveland's bullpen surrendered 11 runs on nine hits over the final two innings to effectively wash away Kluber's work over 6 1/3 scoreless frames. Against five Tribe relievers, Houston's lineup compiled five extra-base hits, including one home run, with two walks, two hit batsmen and no strikeouts.

The late outpouring of offense boosted the Indians' bullpen ERA to a Major League-high 6.23. For comparison, the highest bullpen ERA in the past 50 years for Cleveland was a 5.33 mark posted by the 1986 relief corps. This year's team already has cycled through 14 different relievers, and even the club's typically stout duo of Miller and Allen has been pulled into the black hole.

"The only thing I really know is we're going to figure it out," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "I didn't just sign up for the good days. We knew there'd be some tough sledding sometimes. So we'll keep putting our heads together and see if we can figure it out."

Video: HOU@CLE: Francona on the bullpen struggles in loss

A pair of breakthroughs against Astros lefty Dallas Keuchel, combined with Kluber's effort, positioned the Indians well heading into the seventh. Armed with a 2-0 lead in that frame, Kluber induced a one-out chopper off the bat of Yuli Gurriel, but third baseman Jose Ramirez bobbled the ball for an error and had no play. Kluber then gave up back-to-back singles, prompting Francona to turn to Miller.

Chasing Kluber was precisely what Houston wanted to accomplish.

"That's the key," Astros outfielder Marwin Gonzalez said. "It's no secret that they're having a hard time right now. They have a pretty good bullpen, but they're having a hard time. When you have a pitcher like Kluber, you want to get him out as soon as possible."

Initially, the Indians' strategy worked, as Miller generated an inning-ending, 6-4-3 double play off the bat of pinch-hitter J.D. Davis to escape the seventh unscathed.

Video: HOU@CLE: Miller induces key inning-ending double play

In the eighth, though, the tall lefty gave up a leadoff double to George Springer, issued a walk to Alex Bregman and then watched both runners score on a double into the left-field corner from reigning AL MVP Jose Altuve.

Video: HOU@CLE: Altuve ties game with 2-run double in 8th

"I just didn't throw any good pitches," said Miller, who has allowed seven runs in 4 1/3 innings since coming off the disabled list earlier this month. "I'm definitely not sharp. I wish I had the answers. I'm looking for everything and working hard at it. I think there are flashes of it, but it's been a pretty big grind lately."

The floodgates opened after Miller's early exit.

The Astros used a perfectly executed bunt from Gonzalez to score Altuve from third against Allen, who later issued a walk with the bases loaded. Oliver Drake was on the hook for six of the seven runs piled on by Houston in the ninth, and Josh Tomlin allowed a three-run homer to Springer.

For a snapshot of how dramatic Cleveland's bullpen woes have been, consider that the team has a plus-49 run differential in the first six innings this season, compared to a minus-36 differential from the seventh inning on. Kluber, who lowered his ERA to 2.17 on the season, expressed optimism that the team's bullpen can turn things around.

"You still have confidence," Kluber said. "I think that you have to have confidence in your teammates. If a starter is struggling, if a reliever is struggling, if a hitter is struggling, you still have confidence in them. I guess I would say we all expect to get the job done each time out.

"Obviously that's not going to happen every time, but that doesn't mean you don't have that expectation out of yourself and of your teammates."

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Lindor dropped jaws in the sixth when Altuve drilled a cutter from Kluber 104.9 mph off the bat, per Statcast™. With only a brief moment to react, Lindor reached with his glove while falling backward, snaring the sharp one-hopper before it could find the outfield grass. Lindor swiftly shifted to his feet, spun and fired a pinpoint throw to first baseman Edwin Encarnacion to beat Altuve by a step.

SOUND SMART
In the fifth inning, Kluber sent one of his signature curveballs diving away from the flailing bat of Max Stassi for a strikeout. The punchout was the 1,278th of Kluber's career, all for the Indians, moving him past Tribe greats Bob Lemon and Early Wynn for sole possession of third place on the team's strikeout list. Only Sam McDowell (2,159) and Bob Feller (2,581) have more in Cleveland's long and storied history.

Video: HOU@CLE: Kluber moves into 3rd on Tribe's K list

UP NEXT
Right-hander Carlos Carrasco (5-3, 3.65 ERA) will take the mound Saturday for the Tribe in Game 3 of a four-game series against the Astros at Progressive Field, with first pitch set for 7:15 p.m. ET on FOX. Carrasco faced the Astros in Houston in his last start and was handed the loss after allowing three runs on eight hits in 7 2/3 innings. The Astros will counter with righty Lance McCullers Jr., who got the win against Carrasco and the Indians on Sunday.

Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and Facebook. MLB.com's David Adler contributed to this report.

Cleveland Indians, Corey Kluber