OAKLAND -- Paul Byrd was perpetually pitching from the stretch. Tribe bats were perpetually perplexed. And a six-game swing through the California coast is not off to the most promising of starts for the Indians.
Byrd was uncharacteristically wild in Friday night's 6-3 loss to the A's at McAfee Coliseum, and his supporting cast, both on the field and at the plate, didn't do a heck of a lot to help him out, either. For a guy who relies heavily on the first-pitch strike, Byrd had trouble establishing himself throughout this 4 1/3-inning outing. He lacked the impeccable control he had displayed while amassing 15 wins in 2007, instead walking two batters and plunking two more. He also served up eight hits in his 4 1/3 innings of work. "My control was horrible," Byrd said. "The ball was up all night. I did not find a way to get the ball down." Last season, Byrd led the Majors by throwing 69.5 percent of his first pitches for strikes, according to STATS, Inc. In this start, he threw first-pitch balls to 15 of the 27 batters (56 percent) he faced. It's little wonder, then, that Byrd had a bounty of baserunners surrounding him all evening. He managed to work himself out of some jams, though, as the A's only run through four innings came when Kurt Suzuki scored from third on a passed ball by catcher Kelly Shoppach. But Byrd's bag of tricks ran dry in the fifth. "You can only throw so many bad pitches," he said, "before it starts to haunt you." It haunted him when the A's loaded the bases on a pair of singles and a Jhonny Peralta fielding error. And when Bobby Crosby sent a slow roller to second, Asdrubal Cabrera made an ill-fated attempt to get the force out at home. Daric Barton scored on the play to make it 2-0. "He's got to go to first base there," manager Eric Wedge said of Cabrera. "He could have tried to turn a double play [at second], which would have been tough because of the way the ball came off the end of the bat, or he could have tried to get the out at first base. He tried to do a little too much going home there." The A's added to their lead with Jack Hannahan's sacrifice fly and consecutive RBI singles from Suzuki and Ryan Sweeney. Byrd's outing was over, and the Indians were in a 5-0 hole. "To consistently make bad pitches over five innings is unacceptable," Byrd said. "I could not get an out. I did not keep my team in the game the way I needed to." Wedge was more forgiving of Byrd's performance. "I thought he pitched well," Wedge said. "We just weren't able to make plays behind him." They weren't able to do much at the plate, either. Just as Byrd missed his spots, it was once again evident the Tribe offense misses cleanup hitter Victor Martinez, who remained absent from the starting lineup with a strained left hamstring. "We need other guys to step up and pick up the slack," Wedge said. "It's going to happen where you're missing this player or that player. When that happens, other people have to fill the gaps." Instead, for the second straight day, the bats were largely quiet. This time, it was A's right-hander Justin Duchscherer prolonging the Indians' lack of punch. Cleveland didn't get its first hit until the fourth and didn't seriously threaten to score until the sixth. It was in the sixth, though, that the Indians did have an opportunity to get Byrd off the hook. They had the bases loaded with none out, and Duchsherer had just left the ballgame with what was called a slight biceps strain. But when reliever Santiago Casilla got Peralta to ground into a 5-4-3 double play, it allowed one run across but it also killed all hope of a real rally. Travis Hafner went down looking for the final out of the inning. The Indians made it moderately interesting late, as Ryan Garko ripped a solo home run off Keith Foulke in the seventh and Hafner did likewise off Huston Street in the ninth. Perhaps those blasts were signs that the Indians' funk at the plate will be a brief one, but they weren't enough to solve this particular puzzle.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.