MLB Insiders: Cleveland Indians

The Pirates open a three-game series in Cleveland on Friday night. Right-hander James McDonald gets the start for the Bucs. The Indians will toss right-hander Justin Masterson.

Poor pitching has cost the Pittsburgh Pirates a share of the NL Central lead.

The Cleveland Indians' staff hasn't done themselves any favors lately, either.

The Pirates will try to put the brakes on their longest losing streak in two months Friday night when they open a three-game series with the Indians.

Pittsburgh (32-30) entered its series in Baltimore tied for first place in the division but three straight losses has dropped the club three games behind Cincinnati.

Those defeats can be blamed largely on ineffective pitching by the Pirates, who compiled a 9.38 ERA and allowed the Orioles to hit .396 with 19 extra-base hits - including seven homers. That dismal stretch followed a 12-3 run, during which Pittsburgh sported a 3.02 ERA.

Thursday's 12-6 loss was the ugliest of the three, as Baltimore pounded out a season-high 16 hits - eight doubles - and held a 10-0 lead after four innings.

An even bigger blow to the pitching staff came earlier in the day when it was announced that right-hander Charlie Morton underwent Tommy John surgery that will keep him out 12-18 months.

Pirates' manager Hurdle hopes James McDonald (5-2, 2.39 ERA) can give his overworked bullpen a much-needed rest. Six of the right-hander's last eight starts have resulted in wins for the Pirates and he's 5-1 with a 2.22 ERA during that stretch.

McDonald, though, had his worst outing of the season Saturday against Kansas City, allowing three runs and five hits over four innings in a 5-3 win.

The Pirates have never fared well on the road against AL opponents, losing 40 of their last 48 interleague away games. They've dropped four straight and eight of nine at Progressive Field.

Cleveland won't be in any mood to offer sympathy to Pittsburgh's battered pitchers since its staff has a 6.25 ERA during a 6-12 stretch. The Indians were outscored 24-9 in a three-game sweep at Cincinnati, giving up 17 hits in a 12-5 loss Thursday to complete a 4-5 road trip.

Justin Masterson (2-6, 4.76) will try to avoid losing a career-high fourth straight start for the Indians. Though he's 0-3 with a 5.21 ERA during the skid, those numbers are somewhat misleading since most of that damage came in an 8-2 loss to Kansas City on May 29.

The right-hander was a tough-luck 2-0 loser at St. Louis on Saturday, yielding one run and five hits in seven innings with no walks and six strikeouts.

Masterson, who has no record in two starts against Pittsburgh, has held Andrew McCutchen - the only Pirate hitting above .271 - hitless in six career at-bats.

The Indians' lack of punch offensively has been an almost daily issue for the team, but it also has overshadowed the fact that statistically the Indians' pitching has been even worse than their hitting. That fact was driven home again on Thursday in a 12-5 loss to Cincinnati.

Starter Josh Tomlin, a fly ball pitcher who was pitching in a bandbox, Great American Ballpark, that rewards fly balls, was not a good matchup. Sure enough, Tomlin lasted just four innings, giving up six runs on 10 hits, two of them home runs, as his record fell to 3-4 and his earned run average climbed to 5.56.

The Indians' starting pitching has struggled for much of this season, and that includes No. 1 and 2 starters Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez, who had ERAs over 5.00 until just recently. Masterson and Jimenez have been much better in their last two starts, but the rotation overall is still lacking consistency.

Tomlin has been up and down. Derek Lowe had a 2.05 ERA through his first eight starts but in his last five starts is 1-4 with a 7.27 ERA. Jeanmar Gomez, the fifth starter, is 1-3 with a 7.84 ERA in his last four starts, and 4-5 with a 4.71 ERA overall.

Put it altogether and it's a very inconsistent rotation prone to extremes, both good and bad. The lack of overall consistency with the rotation puts much more pressure on an offense that is ill-equipped to handle it. The bottom part of the Indians' order, in particular, has had trouble contributing consistently.

All of which makes it somewhat surprising that the team is still hanging in there as contenders in the AL Central. Team officials are quick to remind everyone that the team is doing so even though it has not yet played its best baseball. But the longer the team goes without playing its "best baseball" suggests that maybe it actually has -- and is.

Notes, Quotes

RHP Esmil Rogers, a reliever in just his second game as a member of the Indians, singled in the sixth inning Thursday. Starter RHP Josh Tomlin also had a single in the game. All three Indians starting pitchers—RHP Jeanmar Gomez, RHP Derek Lowe, and Tomlin—had hits in the interleague series with the Reds. Indians pitchers are hitting a combined .286 (4-for-14) in interleague play this year.

OF Shin-Soo Choo's first inning home run Thursday was his first home run since May 24. Choo went 75 at-bats between home runs and has hit just four this season. He hit 22 and 20 in 2009 and 2010 before falling off to eight in his injury-plagued 2011 season.

RHP Josh Tomlin's inconsistent season continued Thursday as he gave up six runs on 10 hits in four innings in a 12-5 loss to the Reds. "He just didn't have it today," said manager Manny Acta. In his last four starts, Tomlin has a 6.95 ERA.

OF Michael Brantley doubled in the seventh inning Thursday to extend his hitting streak to 21 games. That's the longest hitting streak in the majors since Atlanta's Dan Uggla hit in 33 consecutive games in July and August of last year.

C Carlos Santana has been struggling offensively, but not defensively. Santana has thrown out 11 of 31 attempted base stealers. That's a success rate of 35.5 percent, the best of any qualifying catcher in the American League.

By The Numbers: 23-2—The Indians' record when they out-hit their opponent. When their opponent out-hits them their record is 6-26.

Quote To Note: "Everything I threw over the plate they hit." —RHP Josh Tomlin, who gave up six runs on 10 hits in four innings in a 12-5 loss to Cincinnati.

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