HOUSTON – It is no secret the Cleveland Indians have struggled mightily against left-handed pitchers this season. Their three-game visit to face the Houston Astros only magnified the problem.
The Indians' bats went cold for a third consecutive game Sunday, providing starter Derek Lowe little in the way of support in a 7-1 loss to Houston.
"We struggled big time offensively the whole series," Indians manager Manny Acta said.
In absorbing their second consecutive loss to the Astros — and Houston's left-handed starters — the Indians were outscored 15-4 and dropped the first of three consecutive road series.
This from the team that just days earlier outscored the National League Central-leading Cincinnati Reds 21-12 en route to a series sweep.
"Actually, when you score four runs in a three-game series, sometimes you don't even win a ballgame," Acta said.
The Indians took the series opener on Friday with a 2-0 win, before seeing rookie left-hander Dallas Keuchel pitch a complete game against them in an 8-1 loss on Saturday.
"We came out OK, I guess, the way we swung the bat," Acta said of avoiding the sweep.
The Indians managed just four hits and a run against left-hander J.A. Happ (6-7), who earned his second consecutive win.
"No one here is hiding the fact that we've struggled against left-handed pitchers," Acta said. "But I'm not going to sit here every time a left-hander throws the ball well — like Happ did today and Keuchel did yesterday — and put them down and take anything away from them. You still have to make pitches and do things right and get people out. We faced two good ones here, and they beat us."
The Indians rank last in the majors against left-handers with a .216 batting average. They are hitting .266 against right-handers.
Things didn't get better against the Astros' relievers, who combined to shut out Cleveland for the final two innings.
The anemic offensive display left Lowe and the Indians hand-tied against the Astros, who are fifth in the NL Central.
Lowe (7-6) had a solid start wasted. He allowed three runs and eight hits over 6 2-3 innings and lost his third consecutive decision in a four-game span.
"They did a good job of hitting in a couple of situations, and they pitched extremely well," Lowe said. "Kind of a tough, all-in-all, series. I take it the faster we can put this behind us the better."
Lowe was also eager to put June behind him. He hasn't won since June 1 against Minnesota, and he posted a 6.44 ERA in five starts during the month.
"It was as bad a pitching month as you can have," Lowe said.
The loss also cost Cleveland first place in the AL Central, as the Chicago White Sox moved ahead by a half-game after a 1-0 win against Milwaukee on Sunday.
Chris Johnson and J.D. Martinez rocked the Cleveland bullpen for two-out, two-run homers to cap the scoring for the Astros, who finished interleague play at 6-9.
Johnson, who went 3-for-4 with three RBIs and a run scored in the seventh, took Nick Hagadone deep to right. Martinez went the opposite direction off Esmil Rogers to cap the scoring for the Astros.
Carlos Lee drove in the go-ahead run for the Astros in the sixth inning, sending a grounder past a diving Jason Kipnis and into center field to score Jed Lowrie and make it 2-1.
Jose Lopez put Cleveland ahead in the second inning, racing from third on a wild pitch by Happ, who struck out five. Lopez doubled to open the inning and reached third on a groundout Michael Brantley.
Lee sparked the Astros in the fourth with a two-out single to left. Brian Bogusevic followed with a hit to advance Lee, who came home on Johnson's RBI single to center to make it 1-1.
There was no disputing why the Indians lost, however.
"(Lowe) did a fantastic job to keep us in the game," Acta said. "We just couldn't back him up offensively."
NOTES: Houston second baseman Jose Altuve strained his right hamstring while trying to beat a throw to first in the fourth inning. He was replaced by Brian Bixler and is listed as day to day. ... Houston left-hander Wandy Rodriguez will face San Diego's Ross Ohlendorf when the Astros and Padres open a four-game series on Monday. ... Josh Tomlin will pitch for Cleveland when the Indians open a series against Hiroki Kuroda and the New York Yankees on Monday.