Lee back in form, but Indians fall to KC

Lee back in form, but Indians fall to KC

CLEVELAND -- The Royals knew what they were doing when they altered their rotation just before the start of this three-game series with the Tribe.

They made a tweak to throw Brian Bannister at the Indians on Wednesday night, and that proved enough to thwart a solid outing from Cliff Lee.

Lee was good, but Bannister was better in the Indians' 2-0 loss in front of a sparse crowd at Progressive Field. Freshly promoted from Triple-A Omaha, Bannister held the Tribe scoreless on four hits with two walks and a strikeout in six innings.

"When you shut out a Major League ballclub," manager Eric Wedge said, "you're doing a lot of good things."

And the Indians' offense did a whole lot of nothing. It wasn't until the ninth inning that they made a legitimate threat to win this one, but, with two out and a pair of runners in scoring position, Trevor Crowe was caught looking at a nasty Joakim Soria curveball for strike three.

Hey, at least the Tribe had runners in scoring position in that situation. That was a luxury rarely afforded them for most of this cold, wet and dreary night.

Lee, then, had to be perfect, or something close to it. And as good as Lee was over eight innings, he wasn't quite that good. The Royals got to him with a manufactured run in the first. Coco Crisp doubled, moved to third on a Mike Aviles flyout and scored on a David DeJesus sacrifice fly.

Who would have thought that would be enough to send Lee to his third loss of the season?

"They moved [Crisp] in without getting another hit," Lee said.

The Royals didn't make their next move until the seventh, when Mike Jacobs and Alberto Callaspo notched back-to-back singles and one out later, Willie Bloomquist hit a bloop single to center to knock Jacobs in.

"A changeup off the end of the bat," Lee said. "There's not much I can do about that."

Nor could Lee do anything about what transpired in the bottom half of the game's first six innings. The Indians only threatened against Bannister once, and that came when Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner both singled to open the fourth. But Jhonny Peralta grounded into a fielder's choice, Shin-Soo Choo flew out and Kelly Shoppach struck out looking to end that mild threat.

Perhaps such brilliance should be expected of Bannister in these parts. He's now 4-1 with a 1.62 ERA in six career starts against the Indians and 3-0 with a 1.44 ERA in four starts at Progressive Field.

"I've pitched well here in the past, and I have confidence here," Bannister said. "And for whatever reason, I seem to have a good feel for this lineup."

The only comfort the Indians can feel from this loss is that Lee appears to be back on track after his two clunkers to open the season. He was effective in the Yankee Stadium opener last week and efficient in this tough-luck loss. Wedge let Lee throw 122 pitches because he never really labored in any of his eight innings of work.

"He had an extra day of rest [between starts]," Wedge said. "It starts with that. But it was a cool evening, and the way he was throwing the ball was very consistent."

Besides, Wedge will use any excuse to avoid turning to his shaky setup men, and Lee provided it.

"I felt strong the whole way," Lee said. "I'm doing a better job mixing speeds early in the game and keeping them off-balance. I got a little fastball happy early [in the season], and they caught on to that. I made the adjustment and started throwing more offspeed pitches earlier."

The Royals had a chance to tack onto their lead on Lee in the eighth, when Billy Butler singled and Mark Teahen doubled to left. Butler tried to score from first, but Crowe fired the ball into Peralta, whose short-hop throw to Shoppach was in time to make the final out of the inning.

"I thought if I played catch with Jhonny, he'd make a strong throw, which he did," Crowe said.

That play kept it at 2-0, as did the perfect inning turned in by Tony Sipp in his Major League debut in the ninth.

"There's a big difference between [being behind] two runs and three runs in the ninth," Wedge said.

Wedge's point was proven in the bottom of the inning, when the Indians had a chance to tie the game on Soria. With one out, Peralta was hit by a pitch and Choo singled. But Shoppach lined out hard to left and, after a passed ball allowed both runners to advance, Crowe went down looking on a curveball eerily reminiscent of the one that Peralta was caught looking at to end a loss in Kauffman Stadium last week.

"It was too close to take with two strikes," Crowe admitted. "It's tough to sit on the curveball when the guy's throwing 92-93 [mph]."

This loss was tough all over for the Tribe, and their tough times began when Bannister was slotted in.

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