CLEVELAND | Even fourth place is now starting to grow dim in the distance as the Royals continue their August free fall.
The Royals, on Tuesday, played a team with a losing record for the first time since the All-Star break. It didn’t matter. Cleveland muscled up with three home runs and rolled to a 9-4 victory.
It gets worse.
Royals starter Luke Hochevar left the game after taking the mound but without throwing a pitch in the sixth inning because of muscular tightness in his right rib cage. The seriousness of the injury wasn’t immediately known.
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That was after Hochevar, 6-12, allowed four runs and seven hits — enough to ensure a seventh loss in his last eight decisions.
Just to make sure, reliever Leo Nuñez gave up a three-run homer to Grady Sizemore after replacing Hochevar in the sixth inning. That turned a 4-3 deficit into 7-3 and continued Nuñez’s struggles since his July 21 return from the disabled list.
Nuñez has a 6.23 ERA in 11 appearances since returning after posting a 1.71 mark in 21 games before suffering a strained upper back muscle in late May.
The Royals have now lost 10 of their last 12 in falling to 55-70. They also fell 2½ games behind fourth-place Cleveland in their quest to avoid finishing last for a fifth straight season.
David DeJesus staked Hochevar to a 1-0 lead with an RBI double in the first inning against Indians starter Anthony Reyes. But Shin-Soo Choo ignited Cleveland three-run second with a one-out homer.
Ryan Garko’s leadoff homer in the fourth extended the lead to 4-1 before the Royals scored single runs in the fifth and sixth innings.
The Indians closed the scoring with two runs in eighth inning against just-signed Kip Wells. Cleveland finished with 13 hits, including at least one from all nine eight of nine starters.
Reyes, the ex-Cardinal, got the victory despite lasting just five innings before handing a 4-2 lead to reliever Brendan Donnelly. Reyes, 2-1, allowed six hits while striking out three and walking three.
Rafael Perez and Rafael Betancourt each worked one scoreless inning before the Royals nicked Masa Kobayashi for one run in the ninth.
Miguel Olivo returned to the lineup after completing a four-game suspension and had three of the Royals’ 13 hits. But Olivo also deflated a potential big inning in the sixth when thrown out at third while trying to advance from first on a single to left.
Mike Aviles had two hits and scored twice.
Aviles opened the game by working back from an 0-2 count to draw a walk in a 10-pitch battle. The Royals started Aviles on a 1-2 pitch to Esteban German, and the move paid off in preventing a double play on a grounder to short.
Aviles then scored on DeJesus’ one-out double into the right-center gap. Reyes prevented further damage by retiring José Guillen and Mark Teahen on fly balls.
The Indians drew even on Choo’s one-out homer in the second inning on a first-pitch fastball. It was a 412-foot bomb to the deepest past of the ballpark — to the left of dead center over the 19½-foot wall.
Garko followed with a single into center and came all the way around when Guillen failed to keep Shoppach’s double from rolling to the left-field wall. Asdrubal Cabrera’s two-out single up the middle extended Cleveland’s lead to 3-1.
Garko’s leadoff homer in the fourth made it 4-1 before the Royals countered with an RBI grounder from Guillen in the fifth.
The Royals pulled closer in the sixth against Donnelly but ran their way out of a chance to pull even. Gload drew one-out walk and came around on singles by Olivo and Jason Smith.
Problem: Olivo was thrown out at third in trying to move two bases on Smith’s single. That proved costly when Aviles punched a single through the right side. The Royals settled for just one run when German struck out.
Hochevar took the mound in the Cleveland sixth but soon signaled a problem. A quick examination prompted his exit and brought Nuñez into game.
Things quickly got out of hand. Shoppach worked a one-out walk and went to third on Andy Marte’s double. Sizemore’s two-out homer was a no-doubt bomb.
Sizemore’s homer was his 28th of the season and matched a career high. He also had 28 in 2006. Twenty of his 106 career homers have been against the Royals.