ARLINGTON -- If the gaping deficits left behind by Cliff Lee and Fausto Carmona were difficult for the Indians to overcome, then how do you describe the hole left behind by Carl Pavano in his Tribe debut Thursday afternoon? Well, the word "insurmountable" certainly comes to mind, because the Indians never stood a realistic chance in this 12-8 defeat at the hands of the Rangers in the Ballpark in Arlington. The Indians were victims of a three-game season-opening sweep because of the shaky contributions of their starting staff. And no one was shakier than Pavano, who made what happened to Lee and Carmona seem harmless by comparison. In just one-plus inning of action, Pavano was worked over for nine runs on six hits with three walks and two homers.
"I know my job going into today, especially after the last two games, was to put us in a position to win," said Pavano, who did all his damage in just 39 pitches. "And I didn't do that at all." That was the trend of a series in which Lee, Carmona and Pavano combined to give up 22 runs in just 11 innings. "Starting pitching wasn't there for us this series," manager Eric Wedge said. "It put us in a hole early all three games. We've got to expect whoever [is starting] to give us a good effort. But it's been a tough start." Actually, the 0-3 start is the Indians' worst since 1996. The latest loss can in no way be pinned on the Tribe bats, which showed their first signs of life in Wednesday's 8-5 defeat and were downright buoyant in this windy matinee. Kelly Shoppach, Grady Sizemore, Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner all went deep for the first time this year, with Sizemore ringing in with a pair of two-run blasts. But what did this parade of power matter in the wake of the predicament left behind by Pavano? Pavano, signed to a one-year contract with a guarantee of $1.5 million, is looking to revive his career with the Tribe. But for one start, anyway, it was more revulsion than revival. He didn't command his pitches, didn't work ahead in the count and didn't make it out of the second inning. Right from the outset, Pavano was in trouble. Ian Kinsler singled and Michael Young doubled to open the bottom of the first, and Kinsler scored on Josh Hamilton's sacrifice fly. Andruw Jones brought home another run with an RBI single, and Nelson Cruz walked. Then came the inning's most crushing blow in the form of Marlon Byrd's three-run, 418-foot blast on a 2-0 fastball, making it 5-0. "I didn't think he hit it that well," Pavano said. "But he's a strong guy. It almost landed in the next county." Pavano pulled himself together enough to get the last two outs of the inning without further incident. But in the second inning, he was roughed up again. This time, he put himself in a jam by walking leadoff man Omar Vizquel, then surrendered a two-run homer to Kinsler on another 2-0 pitch to make it 7-1. Once Pavano gave up a single to Young and another walk to Hamilton, it was clearly time to pull the plug. "He just didn't have much today," Wedge said. "The ball wasn't coming out of his hand like we've seen it, especially toward the end of Spring Training." Zach Jackson, who made this club because of the length he can give the Indians out of the bullpen, tried to salvage the day by turning in four innings of emergency relief. He let the two inherited runners score, and he labored in the fifth. But considering the circumstances, Jackson offered a meaningful contribution. "He took a hot-hitting team and pitched very well for us," Wedge said. "He really picked us up." And the offense picked away at what had been a gargantuan Rangers lead of 9-1. Asked if the deficits left behind by the starting staff were a burden for the offense in this series, Sizemore took the high road. "When you play [the Rangers], you know they're going to score some runs," he said. "We have to find ways to put the pressure on their pitchers. We can't always rely on our guys to shut them down." Sizemore had the Tribe's biggest day -- albeit a day of two extremes. He struck out in the first, fourth and eighth but went deep with two-run shots in the third off starter Brandon McCarthy and the sixth off reliever Scott Feldman. Martinez, who didn't homer until his 208th at-bat of an injury-plagued '08, took the express route this time around with a leadoff blast off Feldman in the seventh. And Hafner's return from shoulder surgery got its first extra-base boost with his solo shot off Eddie Guardado. "We're starting to see some signs with these guys offensively," Wedge said. "You lose track of it with the game being out of hand like that, but you've still got to play, and they did." The Indians have plenty of games left to play in '09, and plenty of time for the starting staff to change its fortunes. Still, what transpired the last three days here was a Texas-sized bummer for this ballclub.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.