Masterson struggles in loss to A's

Masterson struggles in loss to A's

OAKLAND -- Both the Indians and A's entered Thursday's contest more than 15 games out of their respective division races. Both have endured losing streaks as long as five games this this season. Both are showering its rookies with countless opportunities. Essentially, both have transformed the field into a classroom.

However, while the A's have recently watched their youth play a part in the spoiler role, the Indians have watched their work-in-progress group flounder toward the finish line.

And, on Thursday, it showed.

The Tribe managed just six hits off five Oakland pitchers while Cleveland starter Justin Masterson lasted just four frames en route to a 5-2 loss in the first of a four-game set against the A's, who are winners of nine of their past 11.

Meanwhile, the Indians watched their current road trip record move to 0-4. Furthermore, they have lost 15 of their past 19 games -- basically erasing what was once a second-half rally.

Aside from a two-run fifth inning, the offense failed to produce any type of rally on Thursday night. Trevor Crowe hit a run-scoring triple in that frame, which was capped off with an RBI ground out off the bat of Michael Brantley against A's starter Clayton Mortensen.

The Oakland right-hander exited the game after that frame, but the A's relief corps kept the Indians lineup in check, scattering just two hits through four frames while closer Andrew Bailey picked up his 25th save of the season -- an ongoing record for Oakland rookies.

"He had a good sinker, threw some good sliders," manager Eric Wedge said of Mortensen. "We were chasing them a little bit, but he had good stuff out there."

The Indians' skipper unfortunately couldn't say the same about his own starter's sinker, which played a key role in the surrendering of five runs on six hits -- among them a costly three-run blast by Kurt Suzuki in the third inning.

"I kind of hung that sinker to Suzuki that he hit out," Masterson said. "On 0-2 he got one that stands out in the middle of the plate and says, 'Hit me over the fence.' So he did what he was supposed to do."

Said Suzuki: "The first at-bat he threw me a couple sliders that were the same speed as his heater. I was just trying to sit hard and look for something up out over the plate, try to get the ball elevated a little bit. When you're not trying to do too much the ball goes farther than when you do try to hit it far. I just tried to put a quick swing on it."

The result was a four-run third frame for the A's, who would stay quiet the remainder of the night against relievers Jensen Lewis, Mike Gosling and Jose Veras. The Tribe trio combined for four innings of shutout ball, providing a rare bright spot in the rather forgettable loss.

"It was nice to see the bullpen come in and do a good job," Masterson said. "The sinker was pretty much the one that did me in. Instead of having late action, it looked somewhat like a cookie when I left it up a little bit, and their guys were hitting it."

The A's offense wasn't alone in noticing the mistakes offered by the 24-year-old Masterson, who was acquired by the Indians on July 31 in the trade that sent Victor Martinez to Boston.

"He was a little off sync tonight and never really put it together," Wedge said. "He wasn't quite as smooth as we've seen him. Obviously, he gave up the big three-run homer to Suzuki, but he threw a lot of pitches and had to work pretty hard there."

Working hard is what Wedge and Co. are all about these days. The results, however, are coming slower than liked.

"We're going through a tough stretch right now, but we still have to battle," Wedge said. "The few veterans we have are going through some tough times and, for the young players, every day is a learning experience.

"You got to keep the energy there, the positive attitude, especially when you're going through a stretch like we are right now. You have to keep mentally tough, can't give into the fight, can't look toward the end of the season, can't look toward the end of the day. You have to make everything about today."

Easier said than done for a team that boasts a Major League-tying 12 rookies on its 30-man roster. The losing makes for a disappointed and frustrated environment, but more than anything, says Masterson, "it's just not fun."

"It's not fun losing, ever," he said. "We need to get the victory so that we can have that fire. Even though there's no playoffs it's to make strides for the next year so that hopefully we can make the playoffs for years to come."

For now, though, it's all about smaller steps for a team whose youth and inexperience is catching up with them.

"Of course you'd like to win a little bit more because that encourages that working environment even better when you're learning," Masterson said. "It's just hard to come out and know that you're trying to learn and work on stuff and sometimes you are and it bites you.

"But we're all in it together. We're going to fight until the end of this year and then, next year, turn it on even more."

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