CINCINNATI -- Mitch Talbot is searching for answers and so are the Indians. What is known is the starter has a habit of running into trouble out of the gates in his outings. The part of the equation that is missing is what is behind the early-inning lapses.
"It's kind of a mystery to me," Indians manager Manny Acta said.
On Sunday afternoon, Talbot sidestepped damage in the first inning, but was swiftly pounded and chased from his performance shortly thereafter by the Reds. The result was an early hole that was too deep for the Indians to escape in a 7-5 Interleague loss at Great American Ball Park.
In the wake of the loss, Cleveland was forced to focus on the positives of a 4-5 road trip through San Francisco, Arizona and Cincinnati. Considering the Tribe suffered a three-game sweep at the hands of the Giants to start off the 10-day trek, the Indians were happy with the way things ended up.
"I'm glad the road trip is over," Acta said. "Doing the math, you just can't get swept. You win two out of three series and still don't play .500. That kind of doesn't add up, but that's the way it goes. I'm extremely happy with the way we bounced back."
The American League Central-leading Indians (44-38) ended Interleague Play with an 11-7 record against the National League this season. That was a solid showing, especially considering the Tribe posted a 5-13 ledger vs. the Senior Circuit in each of the past two years.
The Tribe also finished its season series against the reigning NL Central-champion Reds (43-42) with a 5-1 record. That brought the Ohio Cup back to Cleveland for the first time since 2005. Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera was named the Most Outstanding Player for the six-game series between the in-state rivals.
Cabrera, who was selected to the AL All-Star team before Sunday's meeting along the Ohio River, hit .320 with three homers and seven RBIs this year against Cincinnati.
"Asdrubal has been our All-Star this whole half," Acta said.
Cabrera went 0-for-4 against the Reds on Sunday, but Cleveland's offense as a whole did all it could to make up for Talbot's early issues. Shelley Duncan belted a two-run home run off Cincinnati starter Mike Leake in the second inning and Grady Sizemore added a two-run single in the sixth.
"Really, [Leake] just made two mistakes all day," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "The home run to Duncan, and that pitch to Grady Sizemore was supposed to be in and it ran way back over the plate."
Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner -- relegated to pinch-hitting duties during the nine-game tour through the three NL cities -- also delivered a run-scoring single off the bench in the seventh inning.
"I like the way we battled back and made it a ballgame," Acta said.
The rally was not sufficient, though.
Talbot (2-5) surrendered six runs on 10 hits in only four innings of work, marking the fourth time in 10 outings that he has lasted fewer than five frames. The right-hander gave up a solo homer to Chris Heisey as part of a three-run outburst for the Reds in the second, and then yielded three runs on four singles in the fourth.
Following his short start, Talbot was trying to figure out what went wrong.
"I didn't feel terrible today," Talbot said. "I mean, I may be wrong, but just from what I've thought about, it's only one extra-base hit, and that was a home run. So that tells me that I'm making semi-decent pitches, but they haven't been on the ground like they should.
"They've been able to get under it just enough and flip it out. That tells me they're not getting great looks at it, but good enough."
Over his past six starts, Talbot has gone 0-4 with a 6.39 ERA, allowing an opponents' batting average of .316 over than span. Across that stretch, Talbot has allowed 42 hits, including eight home runs, in 31 innings pitched.
Acta noted that the bulk of the runs given up by Talbot have come early in games.
"He usually struggles very early," Acta said. "Once he gets through a lineup one time around, he gets in a pretty good rhythm and gives us a pretty good outing. But when he struggles early, he usually puts himself and our club behind the eight ball."
Sixty-one percent (20) of the 33 runs Talbot has relinquished this season have come within the first three innings of his starts. In the first inning, the righty has given up 12 runs, which represents 36 percent of his total runs surrendered.
That is an unfortunate trend that Talbot wants to change as soon as possible.
That will start this week in sessions with pitching coach Tim Belcher.
"I'm going to have to go to Belch and see what he's seeing," Talbot said. "We'll see if we can get a couple different perspectives and work on something from there. I don't know what to do right now."