KANSAS CITY -- Indians starter Zach McAllister can be forgiven for pitching like a rookie once in a while. After all, he is one. Service time aside, the big right-hander has performed like the leader of Cleveland's staff of late.
The only problem is, the rotation is overrun with problems.
On Wednesday night, McAllister ran into a few obstacles early on and the Indians never recovered, slipping to a 5-2 loss to the Royals at Kauffman Stadium. It was the fifth loss in a row for the reeling Tribe, knocking the club seven games behind the American League Central-leading White Sox.
"It's been a rough five days at the wrong time," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "It's hard to believe that since that last game against Detroit we haven't been able to do anything to help us win a ballgame. We're not doing anything right right now."
That last game against Detroit came last Thursday, when Carlos Santana and Travis Hafner launched back-to-back home runs on back-to-back pitches to ignite a furious rally against Tigers ace Justin Verlander. Cleveland stole a win, claimed the series and hit the road riding a wave of positive vibes.
The tide has since turned, and it has not been pretty.
"Things indeed can change quickly," said Acta, whose club sat only 3 1/2 games out of first place when the road trip began. "You can tell by what has happened here over the last five days."
Runs have been few and far between -- Cleveland has plated only 11 through the first five games of this 10-day road trip -- but the true problem has rested with the starting pitching. After McAllister's performance, the Indians' rotation dropped to 0-5 with a bloated 11.10 ERA during the current skid.
"Definitely this is disappointing," McAllister said. "Tomorrow is a new day for us to end [the losing streak]. I think we definitely all know our expectations and what we can do, and when we don't do that, no one is really excited about that."
Josh Tomlin was battered on Friday in Minnesota and was yanked from the rotation and placed in the bullpen. Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez labored against the Twins on Saturday and Sunday, respectively, leading to a discouraging sweep at Target Field.
On Tuesday, Derek Lowe did not make it out of the third inning, giving up seven runs in what was likely his last start for the Indians. Cleveland designated the struggling pitcher for assignment, giving the team 10 days to either trade or release him, or reassign him to the Minors if he clears waivers.
In all, the rotation has combined to allow 30 earned runs in 24 1/3 innings on the trip.
It has a reached a point where Cleveland is set to put its faith in rookie righty Corey Kluber for the finale of this three-game set against the Royals on Thursday. Kluber will be promoted from Triple-A Columbus to make his first Major League start, and he will get plenty more the way things are going.
"We need a well-pitched ballgame. That's what we need," Acta said. "That's what usually takes you out of a losing streak, a well-pitched ballgame that gives the offense a chance to score a couple of runs and win it. Hopefully we'll get it [Thursday] with Kluber."
McAllister had seemed immune to the Tribe's pitching problems, posting a 3-1 record and a solid 2.68 ERA over his last seven trips up the hill, entering Wednesday. The Royals jumped on the right-hander early, however, using a blend of speed and timely hitting to push to a swift 4-0 lead through two innings Wednesday night.
In the first inning, McAllister walked Alcides Escobar and allowed a base hit to Lorenzo Cain. The pair of baserunners promptly pulled off a double steal, and a throwing error by catcher Carlos Santana paved the way for the Royals' first run. Billy Butler then used a run-scoring groundout to put Cleveland behind, 2-0.
It was a similar pattern in the second inning. Chris Getz drew a two-out walk from McAllister, stole second base and scored on a single from Jarrod Dyson. Dyson then swiped second base and crossed home plate on a double from Alex Gordon. Cain added a two-out RBI double off McAllister in the fifth inning.
"He was mostly two-seamer in and a slow, slow curveball to me," Cain said. "Good pitcher, sneaky fastball. I felt like we all battled and found ways to get runs in when we had guys on base, that's the most important part."
Overall, McAllister surrendered five runs (four earned) on five hits over six innings of work. It was not a terrible outing for the pitcher, but it was his worst performance in what has been a solid rookie campaign to this point.
Five runs was ample support for Royals right-hander Luis Mendoza, who went 7 1/3 innings en route to a win. Through the first seven frames, Cleveland's lone run came courtesy of a solo home run in the fourth inning from Santana, who has 10 shots on the year. Asdrubal Cabrera added an RBI single in the eighth off reliever Jose Mijares, adding a second run on Mendoza's line.
"He pitched well," Acta said of Mendoza. "We're struggling, but he pitched well."
The fact that these past five losses have come against the Twins and Royals -- occupants of the AL Central cellar -- has been a disheartening aspect to the Indians' losing streak. Acta said it is imperative that his player do not throw in the towel.
"Anybody at any given time can beat you up," Acta said. "And we have been beaten up the last five games. We need to get back up and continue to fight."