Talbot struggles in return as Indians fall

Talbot struggles in return as Indians fall

CLEVELAND -- They're calling this "Rock 'N Blast" weekend at Progressive Field because of the prodigious pyrotechnics display that took place after Friday's and Saturday's games.

But on Saturday night, a Mariners team that is statistically the worst in the American League rocked the Indians with a series of blasts that sent the Tribe to a 9-3 loss and a series defeat against a fellow last-place club.

After a tough schedule coming out of the All-Star break, the Indians thought they might get a break this week, with the last-place Orioles and Mariners in town. But the Tribe dropped two of three to the O's and has dropped the first two of a three-game set with the Mariners.

The bulk of the blame for this rough patch goes to a young and injury-depleted offense. But on this night, the pitching and defense was equally ineffective. Andy Marte's errors on consecutive ground balls in the fifth opened the door to the game-clinching grand slam Hector Ambriz served up to former Tribe catcher Josh Bard. But that was only part of the ugliness.

"Not a very good ballgame," manager Manny Acta said.

It wasn't a very good return for starter Mitch Talbot. But at least he had the built-in excuse of making his first start in the bigs in 16 days. He was activated off the disabled list earlier in the day following a bout with a mid-back strain.

Talbot, though, didn't want to use that excuse as a crutch.

"I felt pretty well," he said. "I just missed a lot of spots over the plate. It just wasn't good."

Acta didn't allow that excuse, either.

"We're not going to make excuses," he said. "When they pitch well, they pitch well. When they struggle, they struggle."

The Mariners got a run off Talbot in the first, when Ichiro Suzuki scored from third as Russell Branyan grounded into a double play. It became a 2-0 game in the fourth, when the Mariners loaded the bases and Talbot walked Ichiro on a 3-2 pitch.

In the bottom of the fourth, though, the Indians answered back against left-hander Jason Vargas. With a man on and two out, Jayson Nix doubled to left to score Asdrubal Cabrera. And after Matt LaPorta drew a walk, Marte singled home Nix to tie it up at 2.

Marte, though, was picked off first to end that inning. And it would prove to be a sign of unpleasant things to come for him and the Indians in the fifth.

Branyan, who the Indians dealt the Mariners on June 26, led off the fifth with a first-pitch shot to left-center to make it 3-2. Talbot had committed the cardinal sin of giving back the lead after his team fought to tie it up the previous inning.

"That was probably one of the biggest [mistakes]," Talbot said. "It was middle-middle. He did exactly what you're supposed to do with it."

And after Talbot served up a single to Jose Lopez, Marte did not do what he was supposed to with the grounders that followed from Franklin Gutierrez and Casey Kotchman. The first ball kicked to Marte's left, so it would have been a tough play to pull off. Still, when he booted it, it was ruled an error.

"It was a tough groundball," Marte said. "I don't know why they gave me an error."

The second one was more obvious. Marte fumbled the ball when trying to transition it from his glove to his hand.

If this was Marte's audition to get more opportunities at third in the wake of the Jhonny Peralta trade, it wasn't a very strong one. Nix and Luis Valbuena haven't made much of a bid for the position, either.

"[Marte] hasn't been consistent," Acta said. "That's the reason we're trying to give more than one guy a chance over there. None of those guys have stepped up and claimed the job, plain and simple."

Marte's errors put the Indians in a prickly spot, as the Mariners had loaded the bases. But Talbot wouldn't be around to try to work his way out of the jam. Acta yanked him and brought in the reliever Ambriz, a Rule 5 selection who has been given an exceptionally long leash here because, well, he's a Rule 5 selection.

Ambriz left a 1-0 fastball up to Bard, who pounded it out to right for his first career grand slam.

"I know that Adam [Moore] is the future here," Bard said. "That being said, I still have a job to do, and they still put my name in the lineup. I was really fortunate to get some balls up in the strike zone and hit some balls hard."

Just like that, it was 7-2, and this one was all but over.

"They opened the game right there," Marte said.

But the Mariners weren't done.

In the sixth, Ambriz had one on and two out. But Kotchman got ahold of a slider low in the zone and yanked it out to right for a two-run shot that made it 9-2. The Indians got a run in the bottom of the inning on a Nix solo shot, but it was much too little, much too late.

The Indians lost for the sixth time in seven games, and were it not for Frank Herrmann setting down all nine batters faced in the seventh through ninth innings, this one could have been even uglier. The Indians were rocked, blasted and humbled at home.

Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. He blogs about baseball at CastroTurf. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.