A's score early, but shut down by Tribe

A's score early, but shut down

CLEVELAND -- Having entered a three-game series against the host Indians at Progressive Field tied for first place in the American League West, the mostly young and made-over A's had earned widespread respect for performing well beyond the expectations of virtually everybody outside of Oakland.

In being swept by the Tribe, the A's could barely earn a run.

Thursday, it was lefty Aaron Laffey's turn to dominate Oakland's somnambulant offense, and it was Laffey's throwing error in the second inning of Cleveland's 4-2 victory that gave the A's their first run of the series after being blanked in the first two games.

It ended a string of 44 1/3 consecutive scoreless innings by a Tribe starting pitcher, but the streak of innings without allowing an earned run ran to 49 1/3 by the time Laffey turned things over to the bullpen after seven innings of five-hit work. Oakland's second run Thursday came on a ninth-inning wild pitch by Masa Kobayashi.

It was the finale of a six-game homestand for the Indians, whose starters gave up one earned run for the duration of their stay. The A's, meanwhile, fell to 1-5 through six games of a road trip that continues Friday with the opener of a three-game Interleague series at Atlanta.

And the latest loss was particularly painful given that it included an injury to Oakland's best reliever, Santiago Casilla.

Casilla, who was 2-0 with a 0.47 ERA in 20 appearances going into the game, entered the game to start the bottom of the seventh and gave up a home run to Jhonny Peralta on the only pitch he threw before leaving the game clutching his right forearm. He'll be evaluated Friday in Atlanta, but his status for the series is in serious doubt.

"It doesn't feel too good right now," Casilla said. "Something in my elbow."

Oakland's own run of strong starting pitching came to an end with a desultory outing by lefty Greg Smith, who gave up three earned runs on seven hits and three walks over 4 2/3 innings. As such, there's probably a little more room on the A's bandwagon than there was after Mark Ellis' walk-off homer in the 10th inning last Wednesday extended the team's winning streak to four games and pulled them into a tie atop the AL West.

Since then, the A's have scored a total of six runs in their five losses, the victorious exception being a 12-6 drubbing of the Rangers on Sunday. Even that win came with a price, though, as Ellis strained his left hamstring while legging out a late-game double, prompting him to miss the entire Cleveland series and put his status for Atlanta up in the air as well.

Geren might want to check his book of baseball lingo, because he referred to Smith's performance as "another quality start," but give the skipper points for consistency. As usual, he chose to downplay his team's offensive woes and focus on what went right.

It was slim pickings Thursday, but the A's did load the bases with one out in the ninth, and after the wild pitch they had Mike Sweeney at the plate representing the go-ahead run.

Kobayashi struck out Sweeney, and did the same to pinch-hitter Ryan Sweeney.

"I liked the way we fought right to the end," Geren said.

Asked if he had a message for any A's fans who might be seeing the light at the end of a tunnel as an oncoming train, Geren paused for several seconds before answering.

"I don't know if I have any message for the fans," he said. "The message to the players is there's going to be ups and downs. ... Through this, we've played pretty good defense and pitched well. We're just not scoring many runs right now.

"We've just gotta keep working and stay positive."

Smith's day aside -- he said he had consistency problems with his fastball and changeup -- the A's have been solid on the mound. Justin Duchscherer and Joe Blanton were excellent in the first two games of the series, but neither of them got an ounce of offensive love.

"They threw the ball well, man," Indians manager Eric Wedge said. "They've got some quality pitching over there. I thought they were outstanding. That kid today did a good job keeping us off-balance. Blanton throws the ball where he wants to. And Duchscherer had that big breaking ball we couldn't lay off. They're tough."

And now they're off to the deep South, glad to put the Indians in the rear-view mirror on the way to Interleague Play.

"We're ready to go to Atlanta," Geren said.

Mychael Urban is a national writer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.