CLEVELAND -- So much focus has been placed on the Indians' need for offensive assistance, and there is no denying that Cleveland could benefit from adding a bat before Tuesday's non-waiver Trade Deadline.
The problem for the Indians right now is that there are multiple problems. Cleveland remains in striking distance in the American League Central, but the club has stayed afloat despite season-long inconsistency in the starting rotation. That issue arose again on Wednesday night, when Derek Lowe's struggles continued in a 5-3 loss to the Tigers.
The need for pitching has become paramount.
"Of course we need pitching help. Everybody knows that," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "That's a priority."
That said, will Cleveland be able to add an arm for the final two months?
"We're working on it," Acta said. "But we have to get better in here, within our clubhouse. We can't expect that one guy is going to come from the outside -- whether it's on the offensive end or pitching -- and everything is going to be OK. We need more than one guy and they're in here in this clubhouse."
Right-hander Roberto Hernandez, who will be eligible to rejoin the Indians on Aug. 11 after serving his three-week suspension, looms on the horizon. More pressing is finding a way to get the likes of Lowe and Josh Tomlin performing at a higher level, and hoping staff leaders Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez, along with rookie Zach McAllister, can continue their recent strides.
Of course, adding a starter to the mix means another must make his exit, or at the very least, slide into a relief role.
Lowe, who has lost eight of his past 10 decisions, could be facing an uncertain future with the Tribe. Certainly, over the better part of the last two months, the 39-year-old sinkerballer has been trying to find some semblance of his former self on the mound. Over his past 11 turns, Lowe has gone 2-7 with an 8.07 ERA, giving up 52 earned runs on 83 hits across 58 innings in that span.
Lowe just won't go as far as saying he has been searching for what worked in the past.
"I've played this game too long to be searching," Lowe said. "I've struggled numerous times in my career. I guess it affects you because you're not pitching the way you'd like, but by no means do you go out there and think you're not going to get the job done.
"I've been fortunate to play 16 years, and I've struggled at times. I'm in a little funk, and you just keep pitching and keep plugging away."
In his latest effort, Lowe surrendered five runs (four earned) on eight hits in six innings for the Indians, who continue to flirt with a .500 record. It was an admirable bounce-back showing for Lowe, considering he yielded nine runs in three innings in his previous outing, but it was not enough to help the Tribe secure a win in this three-game series against division-leading Detroit.
With this three-game set split at one game apiece, and the Indians four games back in the division standings, Cleveland is tasked with trying to take down Tigers ace Justin Verlander in Thursday's finale.
Lowe's cause was not helped by a pair of defensive miscues -- on consecutive plays, no less -- by Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera that paved the way for two runs in the second inning. Acta, as well as first baseman Casey Kotchman, examined the replay footage of the first error (a one-out grounder from Omar Infante) and both felt the baserunner was out at first base.
"I kind of deked the umpire," said Kotchman. "But when I went back to look at it, I was on the bag."
With Alex Avila on second, Infante grounded a pitch to Cabrera, who gloved and fired to Kotchman at first. The first baseman came off the bag quickly, and umpire Tim McClelland ruled that Infante reached safely. One play later, an errant throw to second base on a fielder's choice attempt by Cabrera allowed Avila to score.
Quintin Berry then followed with an RBI single to put the Indians behind, 3-0.
"Let's be honest, one error," said Acta, when asked about Cabrera's two throwing miscues. "The first one, the guy was out by two steps. The human element got confused there. I don't know why. If you watch the replay, the guy was out at first base. ... I cant blame Cabrera for that one. But that's how it goes.
"Sometimes the human element goes on your side and sometimes it doesn't. It didn't today, but that's not the reason why we lost the ballgame."
The Indians managed only two runs -- both on a home run by Kotchman in the third inning -- against right-hander Max Scherzer in his seven frames on the hill. Travis Hafner added a solo shot off Detroit closer Jose Valverde in the ninth, but that proved to be too little, too late for a Tribe team that has scored three runs or fewer in 11 of its past 13 games.
The offensive shortcomings magnified Lowe's mistakes, and overshadowed his admirable showings at a handful of stressful turns. Detroit loaded the bases twice against Lowe in the fifth, for example, and came away with only one run. Lowe limited the Tigers to the one unearned run in the second by inducing an inning-ending double play from slugger Miguel Cabrera.
"You look back at the game," Lowe said, "it could have been a lot worse."
Fair enough, but the Indians need things to get a whole lot better.
"We need to pitch better," Acta said, "and we need to swing the bat better."