Sowers struggles as Tribe drops finale
Starter hit hard as Tigers split series; Martinez stays red-hot
CLEVELAND -- The curtain fell on 20 straight days of baseball for the Indians on Sunday afternoon.
And after the way the final act played out in the Tribe's 9-2 loss to the Tigers, the Indians couldn't be happier to have a reprieve.
"Good timing for this day," Wedge said of Monday's off-day. "They need it."
Particularly Jeremy Sowers, who is embroiled in what he proclaims the worst skid he's ever experienced. Sunday featured another disappointing showing by the 24-year-old lefty, leading to the Tribe's second straight defeat at the Jake.
Cleveland closed out its 20-game ironman run at 13-7, split the four-game set with Detroit and still sits 2 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Tigers.
But the optimistic big picture could offer little solace to Sowers, who allowed four runs on seven hits over just four innings. After a pair of somewhat encouraging starts, even Sowers said, "I'd be lying if I didn't say this was a bit of a step back."
Steps back do not appear to be a luxury at this point for Sowers, not with injured starter Jake Westbrook's expected mid-June return to the rotation.
Sowers has now tossed one quality start over his last six outings, a stretch in which the left-hander is 1-5 with an 8.34 ERA. What's more, the Tribe is 3-8 in games Sowers has started.
"It's pretty safe to say now that I've never had this bad of a slump before in my entire life," Sowers said. "So it's a bit of a new territory for me."
"Obviously," Wedge said, "he's not pitching as consistently as he needs to."
The Tigers, whom Sowers dominated during his brilliant run last year, certainly noticed that.
Four pitches and one minute into the game, Omar Infante hammered Sowers' offering into the right-field gap. And two batters later, Gary Sheffield shot a 389-foot drive into the left-field bleachers.
Victor Martinez responded with a two-run homer in the bottom of the first inning, his fourth in five games, but the Indians were shut out after that.
What's the difference in Sowers from last year?
"To me," said Tigers outfielder Craig Monroe, "he was just making mistakes over the plate."
However, it may have been his mistakes off the plate that ultimately caused the most damage. Like Cliff Lee the night before, Sowers struggled to command his fastball early in the count. And for a pitcher who relies on precision over power, it showed.
Sowers even dropped a rare hint that his struggles may partially be stemming from a shaken confidence.
"Confidence is spotty," Sowers said. "Sometimes it's good, sometimes it's bad. I probably shouldn't be saying that."
So where to go from here? Sowers acknowledges there's still tweaks to be made with his delivery and his confidence could use a shot. But he also knows there will be no magic remedy.
"This stuff doesn't happen overnight," Sowers said. "I'm just trying to stick with the course as much as possible." Sowers then laughed, infusing a touch of humor into the hushed clubhouse.
"That sounded really bad. I just sounded like [President Bush]," he said. "But anyway, I basically have to stick with a plan that's worked."
Wedge's backing of Sowers has never wavered. He knows what Sowers can do, just like with Lee. But then again, Wedge said, looking back on the past does little good.
"Ultimately, they've got to bow their neck and do it," Wedge said. "They've got to really look in the mirror, take accountability for it and make the adjustments they need to make."
The first adjustment will be a pleasant one: enjoying a rare day away from the park. And it was for this reason that it seemed difficult to dwell on a pair of losses amid such a spectacular start to the season.
"The guys have been fantastic," Wedge said afterward. "They can go home tonight, hopefully get some sleep and relax again tomorrow. They'll be ready to go."
David Briggs is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.