CLEVELAND — Right-hander Mike Clevinger and the Indians started fast Thursday night at Progressive Field. Unfortunately for the majority of the 19,660 in attendance, neither could finish.
Defending World Series champion Houston rallied from an early deficit against Clevinger and Cleveland got another woeful effort from its bullpen as the Astros opened a four-game series with an emphatic 8-2 victory.
Clevinger didn’t allow a run over the first four innings as the Indians built a 2-0 advantage against right-hander Charlie Morton, who entered the night ranked second in the American League with six wins and third with a 1.94 ERA.
But Clevinger lost his command in the fifth as Houston began its comeback climb.
He hit No. 9 hitter Tony Kemp with an 0-2 pitch, then walked George Springer before losing the lead on a three-run home run to Alex Bregman — all with two outs.
“He’s had three or four games this year where he’ll have a (bad) three-, four-, five-hitter sequence,” manager Terry Francona said of Clevinger. “He hung a breaking ball for the home run, but it’s kind of what led up to that. Don’t get me wrong, he’s pitched so well. I think that’s just the next step for him is understanding when you get to that point in the game, limiting damage and putting the pitch behind him and moving on.
“(The Astros) know how (to do it). If the ball doesn’t end up where it’s supposed to or you walk someone, whatever, tonight’s a really good example. They turned two into eight in a hurry.”
Clevinger allowed a season-high five runs over 51⁄3 innings in taking his second loss of the year — both against the Astros.
“I get pretty fired up,” Clevinger said. “Sometimes emotions play in your favor but sometimes they don’t. On that walk, I feel like I made some OK pitches, but my front side was just diving towards the plate and beating my lower half, just because I was ready to throw a punch and get after it.
“It was a hit by a pitch, a walk and that (homer). It was a really bad pitch in a really bad spot. They have a good approach, today especially. They had good approaches, but if I execute that pitch, Bregman isn’t doing anything with it.”
Clevinger started the sixth, but was removed after allowing two of the first three batters he faced to reach on base hits.
Enter the Indians’ ragged relief corps.
Left-hander Tyler Olson came on and faced one batter — pinch hitter Max Stassi, who put Houston in front 4-2 on a grounder past a diving Jose Ramirez at third base.
Right-hander Neil Ramirez entered for Olson and allowed a three-run home run to the first batter he faced, Jake Marisnick, who hammered a 2-2 pitch over the wall in center for a 7-2 lead.
“I thought (Olson) actually made a really good pitch,” Francona said. “I thought we were close to a double-play ball. Then we went to Neil and it got away from us in a hurry.
“We keep trying to put them in a position we think they can succeed. Guys will emerge. We believe that. It’s just that when you’re going through it during the game, it’s frustrating.”
The Indians got three of their seven hits in the third inning, scoring both their runs on Michael Brantley’s single through the middle.
Brantley, who struck out in his three other trips to the plate, extended his hitting streak to 13 games — accounting for the longest active streak in the majors.