CLEVELAND -- Justin Masterson summed up the feel of Friday night in a five-batter span.
From the second to the fourth inning, from Jose Tabata to Neil Walker, the Cleveland Indians starter was dominant, striking out five batters in a row and discouraging the Pirates' quest for offense.
Overall, the Pirates struck out nine times against Masterson in a 2-0 loss to the Indians Friday night at Progressive Field.
"It's the first time we've seen him," manager Clint Hurdle said. "You can watch as much tape as you want. It's a little different when you get in the box. I think some guys, the first time through, were trying to get a feel."
The Pirates lost their fourth consecutive game after winning four in a row. They totaled five hits but went 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position.
"We're working way outside our comfort zone in some critical at-bats," Hurdle said.
They struggled to get on base, and, when they reached, they did not convert their opportunities into runs. They loaded the bases in the fourth. Andrew McCutchen walked, then ran on a pitch that Casey McGehee singled, putting runners on first and third. Pedro Alvarez walked to load the bases with two outs, but Tabata struck out to strand the runners.
The Pirates had another shot in the sixth, when Walker led off with a ground-rule double. McCutchen grounded out, sending Walker to third, but Garrett Jones popped out and McGehee grounded out.
Masterson's control deserted him momentarily in the seventh.
He walked Tabata, then hit Josh Harrison in the back after getting Rod Barajas to fly out. All that put men on first and second with two outs. He threw a wild pitch to Alex Presley, moving the runners to second and third, but Presley flied out to end the inning.
"We've still got too many guys that just want to hit rather than getting a good pitch to hit," Hurdle said.
Masterson (3-6) pitched seven scoreless innings, allowing four hits and walking three.
"You want to see pitches, but, at the same time, you don't want to let good pitches go," Presley said.
McGehee and Walker had two hits apiece.
James McDonald kept the Pirates afloat despite their offensive performance. He threw 67 pitches in the first three innings, but settled down and needed 34 in his final three.
"His best two innings for me were the last two," Hurdle said. "The one thing that has been for me jumping out, James is hard to hit. It's hard to hit James with that downhill angle on that fastball. If he can just keep changing speeds like he does, it keeps them off that fastball, so, when it is in the zone, it gets on them."
McDonald's command hindered him in the early innings. He fell behind batters and missed away from left-handers, the only type of hitter he faced: The Indians started seven lefties and two switch-hitters. McDonald finished with 54 strikes from 101 pitches.
McDonald (5-3) rebounded from a four-inning outing Saturday, in which he allowed three runs and five hits. He lowered his ERA this season to 2.32, but the Pirates have not scored a run in any of McDonald's three losses.
The Indians got the only run they needed in the third.
With two outs, Carlos Santana worked a 3-2 count. Asdrubal Cabrera, who had walked, took off for second on McDonald's pitch.
The curveball fooled Santana, but he poked it down the third-base line and into shallow left. Because Cabrera ran on the pitch, he was able to score, and the Indians took a 1-0 lead.
Tony Watson relieved McDonald in the seventh and allowed consecutive singles to Johnny Damon and Casey Kotchman, putting runners on first and third with no outs.
He got pinch-hitter Jose Lopez to pop out before Jack Hannahan flied out to left. Presley threw a bullet to Barajas to catch Damon, who tagged on the play, at the plate to end the inning.
"I had good momentum," Presley said. "I knew it was on line,
"I didn't know exactly how far it was going to travel."
Jason Grilli walked two batters in the eighth, so Hurdle summoned Juan Cruz with two on and two outs. Cruz surrendered a single to Michael Brantley that scored Shin-Soo Choo and put the Indians ahead by two.pirates
Bill Brink: firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @BrinkPG. First Published June 16, 2012 4:15 AM