CLEVELAND — The magician’s show lasted about 80 minutes. Bruce Chen mystified the Indians for four innings and 12 batters. The performance ended in a swift and painful fashion for the Royals, who fell, 5-1, after Chen imploded in the fifth.
“I felt bad that I wasn’t able to make good pitches in the fifth inning,” Chen said.
Cleveland peppered Chen for five runs and chased him from the diamond. After a five-game winning streak last week, the Royals, 10-11, have backslid. They’ve dropped four of their last five, including three of four to their division rivals here at Progressive Field.
The offense looked helpless against Corey Kluber, a middling right-hander. In his first four starts this season, Kluber allowed at least eight hits in each. The Royals only managed four. Kluber required 101 pitches for the first complete game of his career, set a career-high with 11 strikeouts and saw his guests muster their sole run on a two-base error by first baseman Nick Swisher in the seventh.
Kluber “handcuffed us,” manager Ned Yost said. He flooded the zone with strikes. He mixed his two-seam fastball and his cutter to devastating effect.
“You look at our offense today, and say ‘We stunk,’” left fielder Alex Gordon said.
“Days like today, you’ve just got to tip your cap,” first baseman Eric Hosmer said. “Not much we could do.”
“Frustration serves no purse,” Yost said. “You can get frustrated if you want. But it doesn’t serve a purpose. You just keep working.”
Rare is the moment when Yost reveals concern for his team. He refuses to criticize his offense, one of the worst in baseball. His faith in his players is unwavering.
That belief extends to Chen, 1-2 with a 7.45 ERA. In his last three appearances, he has yielded 15 runs in 13 innings, good for a miserable 10.38 ERA. Danny Duffy, one potential replacement, looms in the bullpen. But Yost indicated Chen was not in danger of losing his spot. “Not at this point,” Yost said.
At the start, the temperature was chilly. The pace was brisk. The hits were scarce. Yost saw a promising four-inning performance from Chen, enough to reaffirm his faith in the 36-year-old lefty.
Chen faced the minimum through four. The Indians swatted a series of lazy fly balls, most of them captured by center fielder Jarrod Dyson.
“When Bruce is getting pop-ups and flyouts, you know he’s really on his game,” Yost said. “They didn’t really center him up – even in the fifth inning.”
At the start of the fifth, Dyson sprinted after another drive to center, this one moving with far greater velocity. It was a leadoff double by third baseman Carlos Santana. He scored one pitch later. Michael Brantley stroked an 83-mph sinker up the middle.
The unraveling continued with a walk by Ryan Raburn. Yan Gomes threaded a single through the left side of the infield. The bases were loaded for David Murphy.
Murphy, a longtime Texas Ranger, bats left-handed. He is much more accomplished against right-handed pitchers. But he still managed to chop a groundball past Mike Moustakas at third base. Two runs scored.
“What hole did they not hit?” catcher Brett Hayes said. “Let’s be honest. Up the middle. They snuck one down the line. Before we knew it, it was 5-0.”
In the bullpen, rookie reliever Michael Mariot readied himself for action. But Yost stuck with Chen. After a sacrifice, Chen faced off with shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. In the aftermath of the loss, Chen lamented three at-bats. He criticized himself for allowing the leadoff double, for walking Raburn and for the lazy slider he flipped to Cabrera.
Cabrera smashed a two-run double to left. That was Yost’s cue. Chen was done. The show was over.
“I have to go out there,” Chen said, “and be more consistent throughout the whole game.”