Carmona's strong start not enough

Carmona's strong start not enough

WASHINGTON -- Fausto Carmona's hard slider kept Cleveland in the game, but it wasn't enough to hide the Tribe's soft bench, which couldn't deliver a hit in a 4-1 loss to the Nationals Friday.

Cleveland manager Eric Wedge called for a pinch-hitter three times. In the fifth, lefty Travis Hafner was brought on to create a favorable matchup with the bases loaded and one out, but grounded into a double play. In the eighth, Trot Nixon had runners on the corners with two outs and struck out. Ben Francisco hit in the pitcher's spot to open the ninth, and also struck out.

"We had opportunities," Wedge said. "We just weren't able to take advantage of them."

Combined with a Detroit victory, Cleveland lost its grip on at least a share of first place for the first time in almost a month.

The team executed its game plan against Nationals pitcher Micah Bowie, making him throw 104 pitches in 4 1/3 innings. However, the Nationals bullpen came through, with six relievers combining to shut down the Tribe.

"I think it's a process of us working ourselves back offensively," Wedge said. "You're seeing us score runs, it's just more sporadic. But at least we are having games and putting innings together where we are scoring some runs. It's just not as consistent as we need it to be -- or as it is ultimately going to be."

Nine Cleveland batters struck out a combined 13 times in what was, for most of them, their first look at the Washington bullpen.

"I had never faced a couple of these guys," shortstop Jhonny Peralta said. "It's hard to face a guy for the first time."

Peralta had the RBI on Cleveland's lone run, driving in Casey Blake after Bowie had walked consecutive batters with only nine pitches in the third inning. Peralta was followed by Hafner, who grounded into the inning-ending double play.

Carmona kept the team in the game, allowing three runs in six innings of work. He allowed the first two hitters of the game to reach base, but settled down after that.

"I regrouped, and felt good after that," he said. "There were lots of ground balls tonight, and a few of them went through."

He said that even when the bases were loaded, he didn't panic, because his hard slider can induce batters into ground balls.

The first run for Washington came in the fourth inning. Right fielder Austin Kearns fought Carmona for 10 pitches to draw a walk, and was brought in by Brandon Watson, who recorded his first hit of the season.

After giving up a pair of runs in the sixth, reliever Fernando Cabrera allowed a home run to Cristian Guzman, the first batter he faced. He finished the seventh without further damage.

It may have been a pitchers' duel, but it wasn't without excitement.

In the second, Franklin Gutierrez hit a sharp grounder to third base. As Ryan Zimmerman reached for the ball, it bounced off his glove and between two of the buttons on his shirt, ultimately getting stuck inside his uniform.

Another unusual play happened in the fourth inning, when Grady Sizemore ended the inning on a pop fly to left field. As Church got under the ball to catch it, a fan reached over and snatched it from him. Sizemore was ruled out on the play that was similar to the 2003 Steve Bartman incident in Chicago.

None of the excitement came from Cleveland's offense, though, which was never able to get going. It forced Bowie out early in the fifth inning after his 104th pitch, but didn't score again.

"The game plan was good," Wedge said. "Anytime you make a guy throw that many pitches in less than five innings, you have some confidence. But if you don't take advantage of those opportunities, it's all for naught."

The team has two more chances in Washington, and knows that to stay competitive in the American League Central, it's going to take both pitching and hitting.

Michael Phillips is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.