CLEVELAND -- The supposed benefits of veteran relief help -- the Indians' prime target in last offseason's free-agent market -- were not on display Tuesday night at Jacobs Field. Spot starter Jason Stanford recovered from some early command troubles, and the bats kept finding themselves on the verge of a rally against the Phillies. But the bullpen? Well, it was anything but a savior in this 9-6 loss in front of 17,371 fans.
The evening's main offender was Roberto Hernandez, the 16-year veteran who was signed to be a protector of the late innings but who has instead been pummeled to the tune of 10 runs over his last 11 appearances. This time out, the Indians asked Hernandez to keep them within a run of the Phillies in the top of the ninth. But when he let three across, the ballgame was all but over. "We should have had them on the ropes," Hernandez said. That was a position the Indians looked to be in very early on. Stanford, making his second and final start before Jake Westbrook returns to the rotation Sunday, was in trouble from the outset, as he let the Phillies string together three quick runs in the first, which was capped by a two-run double off the bat of Pat Burrell. Clearly, this start wasn't going to be nearly as seamless for Stanford as his last one in Miami. "I shook [catcher] Victor [Martinez] off this time, as opposed to last time when I was going with all his pitches," Stanford said. "I thought I could beat Burrell with a fastball, and it was one of those deals where I didn't hit my spot, and a big-league hitter is going to hit your mistake." Another mistake came when Stanford tried to run an 0-2 fastball past Ryan Howard in the third. That resulted in a 451-foot solo shot into the right-field mezzanine to make it 4-1. From that point, however, Stanford's stuff began to click. He retired the next 11 batters he faced, leaving open the possibility that the Indians could sneak back in it. That's really all the Indians asked of the left-handed Stanford, who made his way back to the big leagues after 2004 Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery. "He's a competitor," manager Eric Wedge said of Stanford. "He got off to a rocky start, but he settled down. For him to give us a chance to get back into that ballgame says a lot about him."
The Indians did, indeed, get back into it with a pair of runs in the fourth. But Stanford's run of success was about to come to a screeching halt. In the seventh, Stanford walked leadoff hitter Jayson Werth, gave up a single to Jimmy Rollins and hit Shane Victorino with an 0-2 pitch. He was out of gas, and Wedge opted to turn to left-hander Aaron Fultz with two outs. Three pitches later, Chase Utley lined a single to center to bring in two more runs charged to Stanford, who had officially taken his seat in limbo. With Stanford out of options, the Indians will have to decide whether to add him to their bullpen or expose him to waivers. Given that he's healthy and left-handed, it stands to reason that passing him through would be no short order. "I've shown that I'm healthy again, that I'm able to make my pitches, that I'm able to go deep into the game and that I'm able to compete up here with anybody else," he said. "I'm not going to shy away from any hitter up here." Stanford's fate, however, was the least of the Indians' worries in the late innings. They were trying to win a ballgame that was in danger of getting away from them. But in the eighth, with the bases loaded and Ryan Madson on the mound, the Tribe struck again. Jason Michaels, sent in to replace an injured David Dellucci earlier in the game, lined a two-out, two-run single to left to make it 6-5. The Indians might have taken over, had Jose Mesa not come in to get Casey Blake to ground out and end the inning. So the Indians once again found themselves in a one-run deficit, which was manageable. All Hernandez had to do was hold on. It didn't happen. The Phillies jumped all over Hernandez in the ninth, putting two on for Howard, whose two-run double to right made it 8-5. And when Hernandez served up a two-out double to pinch-hitter Greg Dobbs, all hopes of a comeback were quashed. "He's got to keep us in the ballgame," Wedge said of Hernandez. "He has to be able to keep it a one-run ballgame." As the Indians tried in vain to rally once again in the bottom of the ninth, squeezing out one run against Antonio Alfonseca, Hernandez knew he was the goat. "It's frustrating," he said, "when you fight to get back in the game, then give up some key hits and key runs."
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.