BOSTON -- The Indians can only play the hand they are dealt. Right now it is the left hand that has complicated their ability to produce consistency in the batter's box.
On Saturday night the unfortunate trend against southpaws continued in a 4-1 loss to the Red Sox. The Tribe was handcuffed by Boston lefty Felix Doubront, spoiling a solid effort from right-hander Zach McAllister in his last-minute return to the rotation.
"We couldn't get any offense going against Doubront," manager Manny Acta said. "He did a very good job. He was pitching to both sides of the plate, with a baby cut on his fastball. Good movement. Sharp slider. He just neutralized all those left-handed hitters that we have."
Therein lies the rub.
The American League Central-leading Indians (18-15) can roll out a starting lineup that consists of nine left-handed hitters. Seven of the regulars are pure lefties, and the team has a pair of switch-hitters in Asdrubal Cabrera and Carlos Santana.
Against Doubront, Cleveland did what it could to counter the left-hander by having just five lefty hitters in the lineup, but to no avail. Doubront shut down Cleveland for six innings, and the Red Sox used lefty reliever Andrew Miller for a clean seventh. It marked the 23rd time in 33 games this season that the opposition turned to a lefty first out of its bullpen. Miller's quick frame set the table for a limp to the finish line that saw the Tribe slip to 4-8 against left-handed starters this season.
Cleveland knew what it was up against when it pieced together its roster.
"That's a chance we're taking," Acta said. "We're going to see more righties than lefties, and not every time out are you going to face a lefty that's going to be able to dominate [us]. We've seen that so far this year. But there are going to be times when those guys are going to go out there and are going to neutralize these guys."
Against Doubront (3-1) and Miller, the Indians went 3-for-23, including a 2-for-14 showing by the five left-handed hitters in the batting order. On the season, Cleveland has piled up a Major League-high 456 at-bats against southpaws, showing how often teams try to play the percentages.
The Indians' team average against lefties fell to .217 with Saturday's showing.
The Indians hope production will even out over the course of the season. Progressive Field caters to left-handed hitters, and teams do see more right-handed pitchers than southpaws over a 162-game schedule. When all is said and done, the Tribe feels its output against left-handers will improve.
"I think so," right fielder Shin-Soo Choo said.
The bottom line on Saturday was that Doubront was simply in a groove for the Red Sox (14-19), who now have a two-to-one advantage in this four-game series. Doubront kept Cleveland's hitters off balance with a blend of pitches and ended the evening with five strikeouts, two walks and three hits.
"He's a lefty that throws hard," Choo said. "Inside, outside. He threw a cutter, curveball, changeup. He threw a lot of different pitches in any count. He threw a lot of strikes."
Cleveland's lone breakthrough against Doubront came in the sixth inning, when catcher Lou Marson snapped an 0-for-13 slump with a leadoff double. Two batters later, Jason Kipnis legged out an infield single to plate Marson from third base. That's where the rally began and ended.
"If you watch [Doubront] pitch," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said, "there's so many at-bats when he has two strikes on hitters real quick ... and it's 'cause he's not afraid."
McAllister was summoned from Triple-A Columbus prior to the contest to fill the rotation spot vacated by Josh Tomlin, who was placed on the disabled list with soreness in his right wrist. On short notice, McAllister spun seven innings and piled up a career-high eight strikeouts, allowing four runs on eight hits in a 112-pitch effort.
The Red Sox struck first against McAllister in the third inning thanks to back-to-back run-scoring doubles by Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz. An inning later, Mike Aviles used a sacrifice fly to plate Daniel Nava, pushing the Indians behind by three. In the sixth, Cody Ross added a solo home run, launching a pitch from McAllister over the Green Monster and out of Fenway Park.
"I wanted to go fastball in," McAllister said of the ill-fated pitch to Ross. "I stayed away from him that whole at-bat and in previous at-bats, too, so I thought it would be a good time to go in. Obviously, it wasn't in enough."
Still, Acta is satisfied with McAllister's outing.
"McAllister did a very good job," Acta said. "He had one inning when the ball was up a little bit and they took advantage of it, but other than that, I thought that he kept us in the game for seven innings and showed a good fastball again.
"He didn't get rattled out there in this place. We just couldn't get any offense going."