CLEVELAND -- Justin Masterson had pitched like the ace the Indians projected him to be before the season in his previous six outings. He was controlling the strike zone, moving his pitches in and out, and dominating opposing offenses.
Friday night was a different story entirely.
Masterson was behind all night -- both in the count, and on the scoreboard -- as the Indians fell to the Rays, 10-3, in the second game of a four-game series at Progressive Field. The loss dropped the Indians three games behind the White Sox for first place in the American League Central.
"Justin just didn't have very good command of his pitches," said Indians manager Manny Acta. "He was yanking the ball across his body and was a bit erratic. They made him pay for it. We just couldn't pitch today at all. It wasn't a very good performance by us."
It wasn't a typical day at the office for Masterson, and it was easy to tell from the beginning. The right-hander's first pitch of the game was ripped up the middle for a single, and his second offering was a wild pitch. Masterson simply didn't have the same command he'd shown over his last several starts.
"The times when it does get in the zone, it's not in a good placement or not moving," said Masterson, who fell to 5-8 on the season. "I probably should have just thrown left-handed."
Masterson allowed eight runs on nine hits in 4 1/3 innings, his shortest outing since April 17 at Seattle. He had lasted at least six innings in each of his last 13 starts, dating back to April 27. Masterson struck out seven against the Rays, but he walked four. He had issued only three walks in his last three starts combined, and he entered Friday's game with a 1.50 ERA over his last five starts.
Things were so bad for Masterson, in fact, that Luke Scott -- who had been hitless in a Rays record 41 straight at-bats -- smacked a two-run homer off him in the fifth. If Masterson was upset about giving up the long ball, though, he certainly didn't show it after the game.
"I was just trying to be friendly," Masterson said, sarcastically. "I saw Luke Scott was struggling quite a bit, so I figured, 'What the heck, let's give him an opportunity to get out of that.' I mean, he's a good guy. We don't want any trouble like that. I gave him a nice pitch to hit. It's just people helping people. I'm a giving individual."
Ben Zobrist gave the Rays a 2-0 lead in the first with a two-run homer on a 3-0 pitch. It was the first home run Masterson had given up since June 9 at St. Louis.
The Indians responded, though.
Cleveland tied the game in the bottom of the first when it loaded the bases with nobody out. The Indians got their first run when designated hitter Travis Hafner grounded into a double play. Asdrubal Cabrera helped salvage the inning a bit when he bluffed toward home from third base, causing Rays pitcher Alex Cobb to balk. Cabrera immediately pointed at Cobb and then trotted home to even the score at 2.
But Masterson continued to labor on the mound. He walked two batters in the third inning, then gave up a single to Jose Lobaton that scored two runs. Masterson was lifted with one out in the fifth after surrendering three hits in the inning, including the two-run shot to Scott.
Reliever Nick Hagadone put an exclamation point on Masterson's day when he allowed a two-RBI double to the first batter he faced in the fifth. By the time the inning was over, the Indians trailed 10-2.
"Obviously, Masterson was not on top of his game," said Rays manager Joe Maddon. "Usually, this guy is really, really good. We took advantage of a little bit of his wildness and it benefited us, because he's pretty good. It was not his best night and we did a nice job."
The Indians' offense could never get much going after a wasted opportunity in the first. Despite putting the leadoff man on in the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth innings, the Indians managed to score only one run -- on a Shin-Soo Choo RBI single in the fifth.
"We had a few opportunities, but we didn't capitalize," Acta said.
But against the Rays, a team built around pitching, it's hard to blame the offense for a lack of production. To beat Tampa Bay, Acta knows he must get a better pitching performance than the one Masterson turned in on Friday. At the end of the day, though, it was still only one start.
"I hope that everyone can have six good ones in a row and one bad one," Acta said. "I'll take that anytime. He's been pitching as good as anybody over the last month and a half, but he had a rough one today. It'll happen to the best of them."
Justin Albers is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.