CLEVELAND -- The recent surge by the Indians' starting rotation has mostly masked a mediocre week for the team's offense. A handful of runs has been enough of late to help escort Cleveland to the win column.
A team can only get so far with that kind of formula.
On Sunday afternoon, the Indians received a solid outing from starter Danny Salazar, but the lineup's ongoing struggles sent the Tribe to a 4-1 loss to the Orioles in the finale of a three-game set at Progressive Field. Cleveland could not complete the sweep, but the club did claim two victories against the American League East's top team.
"That's the way normal years are," Indians manager Terry Francona said of the recent offensive drought. "Rarely do you have it really all clicking. That's when it's really good."
The Orioles were happy to leave town with a win.
"They've got all of their pieces back," Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said of the Tribe. "I'm glad they are someone else's problem for a while. They are going to be a factor in the American League Central -- I really think that."
In a pairing of hard-throwing right-handers, Salazar went toe-to-toe with Baltimore's Kevin Gausman for most of the afternoon. Cleveland's starter -- summoned from Triple-A Columbus prior to the game -- opened his outing with five scoreless innings, during which he sidestepped the potential harm of a few snags.
A leadoff double from Chris Davis and a fielding error by third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall created a dicey situation for Salazar in the second, but the pitcher escaped a two-on, two-out jam unscathed. Salazar gave up a two-out single in the fourth and a two-out double in the fifth, but he avoided damage at both turns as well.
"His pitch count was fairly high," Francona said, "but I thought he threw the ball pretty well."
Salazar flinched in the sixth, when Orioles first baseman Steve Pearce led off by drilling a pitch to the base of the wall in center field for a double. Two pitches later, Salazar hit Adam Jones with an offering to put the first two runners aboard. At that juncture, Francona took no chances and handed the ball to veteran reliever Scott Atchison.
Salazar was at 91 pitches, but the right-hander wanted to try to work out of the jam.
"Sometimes you want to finish," Salazar said. But he's the manager. He knows the game better than me or anybody else.'
Atchison retired the first two batters he faced before J.J. Hardy delivered an RBI single to right to pull the game into a 1-1 deadlock. Davis followed with a double slashed down the left-field line, giving the Orioles a one-run lead.
"I think sometimes, the game dictates trying to keep it right where it's at," Francona said. "Atch almost did. First and second, nobody out, he gets two outs, gets to two strikes. Then he gives up the two hits."
Pearce added a solo home run off Tribe reliever C.C. Lee in the seventh and Jonathan Schoop connected for a leadoff shot off Indians lefty Kyle Crockett in the ninth. The deficit was only three runs, but that slim margin felt cavernous in light of how the lineup was operating.
Against Gausman, the Indians managed just one run on two hits -- Carlos Santana doubled and scored on a single from Jason Kipnis in the fourth -- in the right-hander's six frames. Gausman ended with four walks and only two strikeouts, but he held Cleveland to an 0-for-13 showing, excluding the fourth-inning lapse.
Baltimore's bullpen did the rest, making sure the Orioles did not lose three games in a row for the first time since late May.
"He was good," said Showalter, referring to Gausman. "He slowed them down enough with the offspeed pitch. And he had a good look in his eye. You could tell there was a need there that he could bring for the club. And of course, we got three good innings out of the bullpen."
Cleveland was pleased with the performance from Salazar, who has gone 3-2 with a 3.67 ERA in his last five starts for the team after beginning the season 1-4 with a 5.53 ERA in his first eight turns. Salazar has had a couple stints in the Minors since his early-season woes, working out some of the kinks in his mechanics.
"[It's] way better. My delivery is the key," Salazar said. "To throw strikes, right now I'm getting ahead in the count a lot more than in the beginning of the year. That makes me feel more comfortable."
With Salazar's performance, Cleveland's rotation has turned in a 1.02 ERA and 0.73 WHIP over the past seven games, holding opposing batters to a .168 average. Over that same span, though, the Indians' offense has managed just 19 runs (2.7 per game), scoring fewer than four runs in five of the seven games.
"We've played a lot of low-scoring games," Francona said. "It kind of had that feeling today."