CLEVELAND — Just when manager Terry Francona thought it was safe to go back into the bullpen.
The Indians’ relief corps had pitched much better over the last month or so, but it was at the root of a disappointing defeat Saturday afternoon at Progressive Field, with Oakland rallying for a 6-3 win in 11 innings.
Cleveland took a 3-0 lead into the eighth inning, when the pen began to unravel.
Right-hander Neil Ramirez, who took the mound riding a 17-game scoreless streak, allowed the A’s to tie it, and three innings later, right-hander Josh Tomlin allowed them to leave with a win.
The poor effort from the bullpen ruined a quality — if not dominant — performance from ace Corey Kluber, who tossed seven scoreless innings before departing in line for his 13th win.
“I think it’s obvious he’s trying to get back to where he can go to the rubber and get in a strong position,” Francona said of Kluber. “But he’s such a good pitcher that he gave us seven really good innings. We lean on him so hard, I thought we’d go to Neil and we’ve got Oliver (Perez) behind him for a lefty. And it didn’t work.”
Kluber has been working through some mechanical issues over his last five starts, looking beatable and without the high strikeout totals that were present over the first two months of the season.
He struck out only three Saturday, accounting for his second-lowest total over 19 starts.
“Throughout the course of the year if you make every start, you’re not going to feel great every time,” Kluber said. “That’s just to be expected. I think that’s kind of part of it is when things don’t feel right, you figure out a way to manage it.
“If you’re always chasing a certain feeling, you might never get there. To me, you try to make the best out of what you have each day. If you want to feel the way you felt two years ago, your body’s different. You might never get to that point. I view it more as each day you want to feel like you have a grasp of your delivery that day. Go out there and execute pitches.”
An Indians offense that had been clicking was shut down for the second time in a little over a week by 34-year-old journeyman right-hander Edwin Jackson.
Jackson, who has made three starts since joining Oakland’s rotation, allowed only two earned runs over 5 2/3 innings.
Francisco Lindor and Michael Brantley started the opening inning with hits, but Jackson only allowed one more over the next four innings — an RBI double to Greg Allen in the second that put the Indians in front 2-0.
Cleveland scored its third run on consecutive singles from Tyler Naquin, Allen and Lindor to chase Jackson in the sixth.
Kluber retired three of the four batters he faced in the seventh before Francona turned to Ramirez.
Ramirez struck out the first batter in the eighth, before allowing a single to Mark Canha and surrendering back-to-back home runs to Jed Lowrie and Khris Davis.
“It’s easy to magnify today just because it’s the most recent, but he’s a good pitcher,” Kluber said of Ramirez. “He’s been a big weapon for us down there. Again, you go through the course of an entire season, people are going to run into a rough outing here and there. It’s part of the game.”
There have been plenty of rough outings for Tomlin, who lost his spot in the rotation and has struggled pretty much the entire season.
He began the 11th inning by allowing hits to the first three batters he faced, including a two-run homer from Stephen Piscotty.
“It’s a really tough one,” said Tomlin, who has allowed 20 homers over 47 innings. “You had a lead like that and then the guys kept battling. Thought we did a great job of holding that lead and then I come in and two swings of the bat it’s a different game. It’s frustrating and those are the games you want to win, you need to win and we didn’t get it done today. I just came in and didn’t execute pitches and it cost us the game.”
The loss snapped a five-game winning streak for the Indians, who had won eight straight and 15 of their last 17 games at Progressive Field.
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