Tribe can't escape early hole in Texas

Tribe can't escape early hole in Texas

ARLINGTON -- All spring, people pointed to the back end of the Indians' rotation as the club's most obvious concern.

But the struggles of the front end have the Tribe off to an 0-2 start.

No. 2 starter Fausto Carmona picked up where staff ace Cliff Lee left off, allowing six runs in five innings of work, and the Indians went on to an 8-5 loss at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. Carmona's troubles put the Indians in an early hole, and the late homers served up by Rafael Betancourt and Rafael Perez, combined with the offense's inability to come through in the clutch, only exacerbated the issue.

"It's all part of some early season growing pains we're going to go through," manager Eric Wedge said in describing the offense, though he could have just as easily been talking about the pitching.

Carmona appeared this spring to have improved the command woes that hampered him in an 8-7 season last year. But like Lee on Monday, Carmona let himself get out of whack in two very costly innings.

In the second inning, Carmona (0-1, 10.80) left a fastball up to Nelson Cruz, and it was pounded out to left for a leadoff homer. That kick-started a four-run inning for the Rangers. With two on, Elvis Andrus reached on an infield single when he beat Ryan Garko to the bag at first, and a run came across. Another came in on Ian Kinsler's RBI double to left -- on what Carmona felt was a well-located slider down and away -- and Michael Young capped the inning with an RBI groundout.

"I missed a couple pitches up," Carmona said. "And I was behind in the count sometimes."

As quickly as the outing seemed to get away from Carmona, he reeled himself back in. Young's groundout began a stretch in which Carmona retired eight of nine batters. But in the fifth, he went wayward again.

Young lined a double to open the bottom of the fifth, and Josh Hamilton ripped a triple to bring him home. After Carmona pegged Hank Blalock to put runners on the corners, a mental mistake by Carmona allowed another run to score. Carmona fielded a Cruz bouncer and, rather than look the runner back at third, threw immediately to Jhonny Peralta at second.

"I was confused with that," Carmona said. "I went for the double play and didn't look at third base. I thought [Hamilton] would score easy."

After getting Blalock with the forceout, Peralta compounded the problem by trying to throw Hamilton out at home rather than going for the sure double play at first.

Ah, but such mental foibles were par for the course on this sloppy night. And the three errors committed by the Rangers would give the Indians plenty of opportunities to sneak back into a ballgame in which they trailed the Rangers, 5-1, when Carmona exited after the fifth.

The Indians' only run up to that point had come when Ryan Garko was hit by a Vicente Padilla pitch with the bases loaded in the fourth. Considering their only run in the opener came on a wild pitch, this wasn't exactly an awe-inspiring offensive display.

Still, the Tribe did get a needed extra-base boost in the form of Ben Francisco's two-run homer that knocked Padilla out of the game in the sixth.

"That probably took some of the pressure off," Francisco said. "We had been scuffling."

The Indians, though, continued to scuffle with runners in scoring position. They went a crippling 1-for-16 in that department on this night. And even when Victor Martinez seemingly came through in the clutch in the fifth when he sent a lined shot to right with a runner on second, Cruz, who had taken a bad route on the play, somehow came up with the ball by throwing his glove up over his head.

"I don't know how [Cruz] did that," Wedge said.

Even if the offense had been a little more lucky and a little more opportunistic, the effort would have been undermined not just by Carmona but also the bullpen. Betancourt came on in the sixth and was torched by the 20-year-old rookie Andrus' first career homer. And in the seventh, the ordinarily reliable Perez served up a mammoth, 432-foot shot to Cruz that rocketed off the facade of the ballpark's club-level restaurant in left.

"They're a good-hitting ballclub," Wedge said of the Rangers. "They put some good swings on the ball, and the big ball hurt us."

Nothing hurt the Indians more than Carmona's clunker in his '09 debut. They have a lot riding on the right-hander, and he obviously has a lot of time to improve. But following Lee's loss in the opener, this was hardly progress.

"Fausto showed signs of locating his pitches," Wedge said. "But he also slipped out of it from time to time. Against this ballclub in this park, they'll make you pay for that."

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