TLANTA — The Cleveland Indians are off to a rough start in what could be one of their most crucial stretches of the season.
Chris Johnson drove in the winning run with a two-out single in the ninth inning as the Atlanta Braves won 3-2 Wednesday, edging the Indians for the second night in a row.
Mike Aviles homered and drove in both Cleveland runs, but the Indians squandered too many chances and paid for it in the end.
“We had opportunities. We need to capitalize on them,” Aviles said. “When our ace (Justin Masterson) goes out and gives us strong innings, we’ve got to find a way to get a W.”
The Indians have scored three runs or fewer in five of their past six games — not a good time to go into a slump.
They dropped four games back in the wild-card race.
After wrapping up a three-game series with the Braves, Cleveland moves on to play three games in Detroit against the AL Central-leading Tigers before returning home for three games with Baltimore, another playoff contender.
“We’re getting good pitching, and because of that we’re staying in games and we’re giving ourselves a chance,” manager Terry Francona said.
“But we’re not hitting a bunch. It becomes more glaring when you don’t get in runners in scoring position with two outs, which we haven’t done.”
Jordan Schafer drove in Atlanta’s first two runs. He scored the winner after reaching on an infield single and stealing his second base of the night. Freddie Freeman was intentionally walked before Johnson lined a 2-2 pitch to left off Joe Smith (5-2).
“Any time somebody gets walked intentionally in front of you, you want to come up big,” Johnson said.
Masterson pitched five-hit ball over six innings, yet was moaning about a crucial mistake in the second.
After Brian McCann led off with a single, Andrelton Simmons lined a two-out double into the left-field corner.
Even though McCann was running on contact, the slow-moving catcher had no chance of coming all the way around to score on a ball that ricocheted off the wall, right to outfielder Michael Brantley.
Masterson was still in good shape, with light-hitting pitcher Paul Maholm coming up. He was batting just .133 and had not walked all season. But his Cleveland counterpart didn’t come close on a 3-2 pitch — and paid dearly for it.
Schafer, who took over the leadoff spot when Jason Heyward went out with a broken jaw, came up next and ripped a single that brought home Atlanta’s first two runs.
“Don’t let Joe fool you over there,” Masterson said. “I’m the reason we lost the game tonight.”
Craig Kimbrel (3-2) earned the win with a perfect ninth.
Aviles just cleared the left-field wall with his eighth homer of the season in the fourth, snapping Cleveland’s 12⅔-inning scoreless streak in Atlanta. The Braves won the opener of the series 2-0.
Aviles tied it up in the eighth with a sacrifice fly, but Asdrubal Cabrera got caught in a rundown to end the inning, costing the Indians a chance to go ahead.
Maholm gave up six hits and one run in six innings. The bullpen couldn’t hold a 2-1 lead, costing the left-hander a chance to join teammates Mike Minor, Kris Medlen and Julio Teheran as 10-game winners.
The Indians placed OF Ryan Raburn on the 15-day disabled list because of a strained left Achilles, retroactive to Aug. 19. He had missed 10 of the previous 11 games because of soreness.
* Cleveland purchased the contract of OF Matt Carson from Triple-A Columbus. He struck out as a pinch-hitter in the seventh with the potential tying run at second base.
* McCann reached on a bunt single in the fifth, taking advantage of Cleveland playing a shift with three players on the right side of the infield.
* Atlanta OF B.J. Upton, mired in a season-long slump, was hit by a pitch in the sixth — and promptly picked off at first by Masterson. Upton complained briefly and heard a smattering of boos from the home crowd as he walked toward the dugout.
* Braves 2B Dan Uggla went 1-for-3 with a walk and two strikeouts in his first game since eye surgery.
Follow Paul Newberry on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pnewberry1963.
WHO: Cleveland vs. Atlanta
WHERE: Turner Field, Atlanta
PITCHERS: Jimenez (9-8, 3.95 ERA) vs. Medlen (10-12, 3.74)
TV/RADIO: SportsTime Ohio; WTAM 1100-AM, WMMS 100.7-FM