CLEVELAND -- In the immediate aftermath of another abbreviated effort from left-hander TJ House, Indians manager Terry Francona did not allow himself to overreact. If Cleveland is considering its options for the struggling starter, the manager was not going to tip his hand.
"I don't think you ever make a decision three minutes after a game," Francona said. "We'd never have a team left."
There is no getting around the fact that House has labored mightily early this season -- his latest lapse paving the way for a 5-1 loss to the Blue Jays on Thursday at Progressive Field. The lefty has averaged fewer than four innings per start through four outings.
For April, House ended with an 0-4 record, and the Indians' 7-14 record marked the fewest victories in an opening month since 2003 for the club. Cleveland's offense did the lefty no favors on Thursday -- Michael Brantley's RBI single in the fifth was all the Tribe had to show for 11 hits and 16 baserunners -- but House surrendered a five-spot in the fourth that proved to be the difference.
House had a simple explanation for his unraveling.
"They made an adjustment," he said, "and I definitely didn't make one fast enough to keep them off-balance a little bit. They did what they did. I just reacted a little too slow."
The adjustment by Toronto was to transition into a more opposite-field approach.
Through the first three innings, House allowed no hits, walked two and generated nine groundouts. During that span, seven of the nine outs created by the left-hander were on pulled pitches. After Jose Bautista led off with a walk in the fourth, Edwin Encarnacion, Danny Valencia and Russell Martin each went the other way for hits. Kevin Pillar capped off the outburst by pulling a two-run double to left field.
"That type of lefty will eat you alive if you don't [go the other way]," Blue Jays manager John Gibbons said. "You better take some hits the other way. And, if they make a mistake up or out over the plate or leave one inside, that's when you burn them to the pull side. That approach keeps you on the baseball a little bit longer."
House could not react to the change in time to salvage his outing.
"The first time through the order," Francona said, "even though he wasn't pounding the strike zone, he was staying down with everything and keeping the ball on the ground, which is exactly what he needs to do. The second time through, they adjusted and they started shooting the ball the other way and staying on balls and it happened in a hurry. It ended up being too much for us."
After House's exit, Cleveland's bullpen combined for six shutout innings. The only hiccup within their performances came after House's departure in the fourth, when Pillar scored from third base against Ryan Webb on a bunt by Toronto's Jonathan Diaz. That put the final touch on House's line, which included five runs allowed on four hits in three-plus innings, with three walks and no strikeouts.
That showing pushed House's ERA up to 13.15 on the season through 13 innings.
"I've got to be able to stop the bleeding and move forward," House said. "It's part of the game. We all go through our ups and downs. Sometimes our downs are a little longer than we like, but you've got to stay positive and move forward."
If the Indians feel House needs more seasoning at Triple-A Columbus, the team can option him to the Minors. Cleveland also does not need a fifth starter until May 9, because of a team off-day coming up on Monday. That could give the Indians time to work with House in preparation for another start, or it might buy the Tribe time to sort through its alternatives for that rotation spot.
Francona was not willing to discuss that possibility.
"Whatever we're going to do," Francona said, "I would never do it through [the media]. That's certainly not the approach we'd ever take. That's not fair to anybody."