DETROIT -- There are certain hitters who just have a pitcher's number. When Don Kelly settled into the batter's box to face Indians sinkerballer Justin Masterson on Sunday afternoon, it was best to ignore the paltry batting average that appeared on the scoreboard.
Masterson surrendered a three-run home run to Kelly in the sixth inning, sending the Indians on their way to a 4-1 loss to the Tigers at Comerica Park. Detroit rookie left-hander Jose Alvarez quieted Cleveland's bats for six innings in his Major League debut, making Masterson's few mistakes more glaring in the Tribe's seventh consecutive defeat.
Then again, Kelly looked like he used a sand wedge to make contact with Masterson's pitch.
"I don't even think it was a mistake," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "He actually threw a ball down and in that was a ball. It got into his swing path and it got out of the ballpark. That ended up being the difference."
That is the way things have been going these days for the Tribe.
The Indians were dealt a three-game sweep at the hands of the American League Central-leading Tigers and have yet to win a game in six tries on this three-city, nine-game swing through New York, Detroit and Texas. Dating back to May 21, the Indians have dropped 15 of their past 19 games. Over that span, second-place Cleveland has gone from a 2 1/2-game lead atop the division to a 4 1/2-game deficit behind the Tigers.
The Indians (30-32) have now lost 11 straight road games in the same season for the first time since 1991, and are two games below the break-even mark for the first time since April 30.
"We're just not catching a whole lot of breaks," Masterson said. "That's going to happen within this game, within this season. For us, we're excited about the talent and ability we have here to be able to overcome this."
Detroit isn't preparing Woodward Ave. for a victory parade just yet, though.
"I still don't call it a big series. It wasn't a big series before," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said. "We played well and we probably caught them at the right time. [Asdrubal] Cabrera their shortstop's out. They struggled a little bit after a couple of really tough games in Boston. But they'll be back. They've got a good team, and they've got a terrific offense.
"It doesn't mean anything at all. It's early June. Some of the kids aren't even out of school yet."
Alvarez -- promoted from Triple-A Toledo before the game -- spun six strong innings for the Tigers (35-26), who have won each of the past five meetings with the Tribe. The left-hander limited Cleveland to one run, which came via a two-out home run off the bat of Ryan Raburn in the fifth inning. Alvarez scattered three hits and finished with seven strikeouts and one walk in the victory.
Alvarez started in place of Anibal Sanchez, who was scratched due to stiffness in his throwing shoulder. Facing an unfamiliar pitcher on short notice can be a tough assignment for any team.
"You don't know how he's going to approach you or kind of what his pitches do," Raburn said.
Not that the Indians used that as any kind of excuse.
"We could've faced Anibal Sanchez," Francona said. "You face who you face."
Across seven innings, Masterson ended with four strikeouts, three walks and six hits allowed in his 105-pitch performance. The right-hander gave up four runs, including three on the momentum-swinging home run from Kelly in the sixth
"Masty competed," Francona said. "I didn't think he had his best command, but he still navigated his way through that lineup."
The Tigers first broke through against Masterson (8-5) in the second inning, when the big right-hander allowed a leadoff single to Prince Fielder and then walked Victor Martinez and Kelly to load the bases. Alex Avila followed by sending a fly ball into the glove of center fielder Michael Bourn, but deep enough in the outfield to allow Fielder to hustle home on a sacrifice fly.
Beginning with that sac fly, Masterson retired 12 of the next 14 Detroit hitters he faced before running into trouble again in the sixth inning.
Detroit's decisive push started with a walk to slugger Miguel Cabrera and continued when Fielder pulled a pitch through the right side for a single. That set up the confrontation with Kelly, who stepped to the plate with one out and a .188 batting average on the season for Detroit.
Kelly's season line hardly mattered, considering his career production against Masterson, who gives plenty of hitters fits with his heavy sinker and sweeping slider.
"He's not an easy guy to hit against. I wouldn't say it's comfortable," Kelly said. "His sinker moves all over the place. He's got a good slider. He throws 95-96 mph. It's not comfortable, but you just go up there and battle."
The Tigers' center fielder golfed a low, looping 1-2 pitch from Masterson over the right-field wall for a three-run home run. With that blast, Kelly's career average improved to .368 (7-for-19) against Masterson, and the Tigers grabbed a 4-1 lead that they would not relinquish.
"Usually, he drops it in somewhere else," Masterson said of Kelly. "This time, he dropped it in over the fence."
Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. Mark Emery is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.