Sabathia's smooth night turns rocky

Sabathia's smooth night turns rocky

CLEVELAND -- Manager Eric Wedge said after Thursday night's game that watching his grinding offense miss chance after chance was "like pulling teeth."

And that followed a win.

Imagine, then, how he felt after witnessing another lifeless night by the Indians' offense Saturday, as it wasted ace C.C. Sabathia's solid outing in a 4-2 loss to the Royals before 27,272 at Progressive Field.

"There's not much you can really say about it that hasn't been said," Wedge said. "We got guys here with too much experience over the last couple years to be swinging the bats like this. ... I'm just not seeing quality at-bats."

The Indians, who saw Kansas City's four-run seventh inning erase a two-run lead, have now scored three runs or fewer in five of their last six games and 16 of 30 overall.

Facing rookie right-hander Luke Hochevar -- who came in with a 5.91 ERA -- and the Royals' bullpen for three innings, the Indians managed four hits. They scored only on a wild pitch in the fourth and Grady Sizemore's home run to right in the fifth, signifying well the team's struggles to put anything together.

"Whether they have to get a little tougher, or make some adjustments or be a little more honest with themselves, everybody out there needs to get a little bit better," Wedge said.

What bothers Wedge most is that this is largely the same lineup from a year ago, from the team that so often came through when it mattered most.

"We don't have a bunch of rookies out there," Wedge said. "I'm not saying we have a bunch of veterans either, but we have guys that are deep enough into their career to where it should be translating by now."

The latest lineup shuffle fell flat. Franklin Gutierrez, moved up to the second slot, went 0-for-4 and grounded into a double play. And the struggling bottom-of-the-order quartet of Travis Hafner, Ryan Garko, Casey Blake and Asdrubal Cabrera went hitless in 11 at-bats.

Yet even so, Sabathia looked to absolve the offense Saturday. The left-hander skirted trouble for a while, escaping two big jams and allowing none of the seven baserunners he allowed to touch home over six innings.

"I needed to shut the door," Sabathia said.

Instead, he immediately opened it in the seventh, beginning with John Buck's leadoff double to right field and Tony Pena's ensuing bunt that he pushed perfectly up the first-base line. Sabathia was finally touched up when David DeJesus singled through the left side. And after Mark Grudzielanek bunted the runners over to second and third, the Royals tied the game on Gutierrez's misplay of an Alex Gordon fly ball to short left field. Sliding to make the catch, the ball bounced off the right fielder's glove and ended Sabathia's night.

Masa Kobayashi relieved and immediately induced a weak fly ball to right that held the runner at third. But with two outs, Billy Butler and Mark Teahen hit consecutive run-scoring singles off Kobayashi and Rafael Perez to put the Royals ahead, 4-2.

In the end, Sabathia allowed four runs on 10 hits while striking out four over 6 1/3 innings. It was Sabathia's third straight solid start, and following his hard-luck loss Saturday against the Yankees, the second straight time he received little help from his teammates.

Still, while Sabathia shouldered the blame for the loss -- "I take full responsibility," he said -- he knows nights like Saturday beat the alternative of him letting his teammates down.

"I feel a lot better than I did in the first couple of games," Sabathia said in a silent and empty clubhouse. "I feel like I can make pitches when I need to. I wasn't as sharp as I was the past two starts, but I made some pitches when I needed to and got out of some jams. It's definitely a confidence booster. I feel a lot better."

Of course, the offense will not be making any similar claims. Its struggles continue, frustrating its manager.

The players from last year's memorable run remain in Cleveland. Has the confidence displayed from a year ago vanished? Or is it still there, and just not yet evident?

Sabathia and Wedge thinks it's the latter.

"This team has the same confidence," Sabathia said. "It's just not coming through, but we know that it will eventually. We just need to keep it where it is right now, kind of teetering back and forth. But we're going to explode. We've got too many good hitters in here not to go on a roll."

David Briggs is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.