BALTIMORE -- The Indians' depth is being put to the test as the club tries to maintain its footing in the race for the American League Central crown. Injuries have ravaged the roster and Cleveland has done everything possible to remain resilient.
During an 8-3 loss to the Orioles on Sunday, the Tribe saw starter Jeanmar Gomez struggle in his return from the Minor Leagues, and the club watched center fielder Grady Sizemore limp off the field with a right knee injury. Those were two disappointing developments for a team that has had its share of setbacks this season.
"These guys have done a very good job of staying afloat, fighting and holding their ground," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "Hey, nobody said it was going to be easy, and everybody has issues with their players. We're just going to have to fight through it."
The defeat at Camden Yards resulted in a series split of the four-game set against Baltimore, though the Tribe finished 5-2 in its meetings with the Orioles this year. Now Cleveland's depleted squad -- one trying to keep the Tigers, White Sox and Twins in its rear-view mirror -- will head to Minnesota for four games in three days.
With the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline approaching, the Indians (49-44) appear in need of a few reinforcements. If Gomez -- promoted from Triple-A Columbus on Sunday to assume injured starter Mitch Talbot's spot -- continues to labor, Cleveland's need for starting pitching help will likely increase.
The offense also looks in need of assistance -- whether through internal improvements or outside additions. Cleveland is already without right fielder Shin-Soo Choo (broken left thumb) and losing Sizemore, who appeared to be heating up in the batter's box, would be another tough blow for the ballclub to absorb.
"Hopefully he can go to Minnesota and feel all right," Indians designated hitter Travis Hafner said of Sizemore. "But certainly having Choo out, and potentially Grady, would be two pretty big bats missing from our lineup.
"If he is out for a little bit, you just hope somebody else steps up and fills that spot."
Right now, Sizemore is scheduled to head with the ballclub to Minnesota for Cleveland's upcoming series at Target Field. He will have his knee examined there and could head home to Cleveland for further tests, if necessary. Sizemore is certainly a candidate to land on the 15-day disabled list.
The extent of Sizemore's injury was not immediately known, but the center fielder missed two weeks in May due to a similar issue. The Indians described Sizemore's ailment as a right knee contusion, which is the same problem that sent him to the 15-day disabled list on May 16.
Sunday afternoon began with such promise, too.
Cleveland pounded out three runs on four hits in the first inning, but was silenced the rest of the way by an assortment of Baltimore arms. When it was all said and done, the Tribe had squandered multiple scoring chances and the team finished with 11 runners stranded on the basepaths.
"We started very good offensively," Acta said. "But at the end of the day we left way too many guys on base. We got their starter by the third inning and only scored three runs off of him. We didn't do a very good job. We left an army of guys on the bases."
In the first inning, Hafner belted a solo homer off of Orioles starter Mitch Atkins. Carlos Santana followed by sending a 1-1 offering from Atkins towering high over right field, where it hugged the line, drifted out of the stadium and landed on Eutaw Street for a solo blast -- one that held up after a review -- to put the Tribe up, 2-0.
Sizemore then sliced a pitch from Atkins into shallow center field for what turned out to be an ill-fated double. The Indians' star center fielder made an awkward turn around first base -- injuring his right knee in the process -- and then made a hard, headfirst slide into second.
Clearly shaken up, Sizemore rose from the dirt upon being ruled safe and tossed his helmet to the dirt. A few minutes later, the center fielder exited the contest. Pinch-runner Ezequiel Carrera replaced Sizemore and later crossed the plate on an RBI single from Travis Buck.
"You score early, you give your starting pitcher some breathing room," Hafner said. "And usually when you score first I'm pretty sure it gives you a lot better chance to win the game. We just left too many people on base, ultimately. That really hurt us."
Gomez struggled to keep the ball inside the ballpark, allowing Baltimore to slug its way back into the game.
Overall, Gomez allowed five runs on six hits over 5 1/3 innings. In four starts for the Indians this season, the right-hander has not once lasted six innings. For the time being, Gomez is trying to aid a banged-up rotation, which is without Talbot and Alex White, but expecting to have Fausto Carmona (right quadriceps) back on Monday.
Adam Jones initiated the Orioles' comeback with a solo shot to the left-field stands in the second inning. In the fifth, Gomez allowed two base hits before surrendering a three-run homer to Robert Andino to put Cleveland behind, 4-3.
"I threw a couple cutters, but they were balls," said Gomez, referring to Andino's at-bats. "The count was 3-1, so I tried to throw my fastball outside, but it went down the middle."
Baltimore's Nick Markakis ended Gomez's day with a one-out, solo blast in the sixth.
Baltimore (38-54) tacked on two runs against reliever Joe Smith in the seventh inning, ending the sidearmer's run of 19 consecutive innings without allowing a run. Orioles catcher Matt Wieters then added a solo homer off Cleveland's Frank Herrmann in the eighth to put the Tribe down, 8-3.
It was a disheartening end to the series in Baltimore.
Cleveland is hoping to continue with its resilient ways.
"I feel like we've had a lot of adversity this year," Hafner said. "We've been able to battle back and continue to play well."