CLEVELAND - Shin-Soo Choo made manager Manny Acta look like a genius, but the Indians still looked like losers Friday night at Progressive Field.
Prior to the series opener with intrastate rival Cincinnati, Acta moved Choo up to the second spot in the batting order, and the right fielder responded with a 3-for-4 performance that included a pair of home runs and three RBIs.
But Choo's production was not enough to stave off another defeat for the Indians, a 7-4 decision to the Reds, which accounted for their fifth straight loss.
The Reds broke a
4-all tie with two runs in the sixth off reliever Aaron Laffey then added another in the ninth on a homer from former Indian Brandon Phillips off beleaguered closer Kerry Wood.
After coming on for starter Jake Westbrook, Laffey started the sixth by walking the first batter he faced. He allowed an RBI double to the next hitter, Lance Nix, before recording two outs and surrendering another run-scoring hit - a single to Orlando Cabrera.
"That leadoff walk for Laffey really hurt us, and we weren't able to get back in the game after that," Acta said.
Laffey, who lost another bid to win a job in the rotation during spring training, has struggled recently after a positive start out of the bullpen.
"I'm just not really commanding the ball the way I was earlier in the year," Laffey said. "I'm hanging my slider and throwing my fastball up in the zone.
"I can't wait for May to be over."
If things keep heading in this direction, the last-place Indians won't be able to wait for the season to be over.
But if there has been one positive from a position-player standpoint, it's been Choo. He has been the only hitter in the lineup producing on a consistent basis and it was no different Friday.
Hitting second for just the second time in his career, Choo gave the Indians an early lead with a solo shot in the opening inning off Reds starter Bronson Arroyo, who got the win after allowing four runs on seven hits over 62/3 innings.
Choo singled in the third then tied the game at 4 in the fifth with a two-run homer. He had half his team's hits through five innings.
"Choo was huge," Acta said. "We know what Choo can do but it's going to take more than one guy. We just need a few guys to pick it up."
Fresh off a complete-game victory - his first since 2008 - Westbrook took a step back, lasting just five innings while allowing four runs on seven hits.
The right-hander started the game with two scoreless innings before allowing four runs over the next two innings - three on homers from Nix in the third and Jonny Gomes in the fourth.
"Jake just had a tough time throwing strikes on the first pitch and he was up a little bit," Acta said.
"I got behind some guys and made a few mistakes," Westbrook said. "If I do my job as a starting pitcher, those (four) runs stand up for us."
Westbrook, who missed nearly two seasons recovering from Tommy John surgery, appeared to have turned the corner in his two previous starts, allowing only two runs over 15 innings of two wins.
"I learned really early that you never figure everything out," said Westbrook, whose ERA stands at 4.56 through nine starts. "I feel great physically. I think for me it's just a matter of being consistent each time out."
The Battle of Ohio hasn't been much of one between the Indians and Reds, Cincinnati winning 10 of the 13 head-to-head meetings since 2008.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or email@example.com.
• WHO: Cleveland vs. Cincinnati
• TIME: 7:05
• WHERE: Progressive Field
• PITCHERS: Carmona (4-1, 3.33 ERA) vs. Cueto (3-1, 3.67)
• TV/RADIO: No TV; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM