Tribe's new-look lineup lacks desired results

After Brantley's blast, hitters go 1-for-18 vs. Royals lefty Vargas

Tribe's new-look lineup lacks desired results

KANSAS CITY -- When the Indians arrived at Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday, the starting lineup that was displayed in the visitors' clubhouse had a new look, but it yielded the same old results.

In an effort to boost the Tribe's struggling offense -- one that has labored against left-handers all season -- manager Terry Francona shook things up and altered the batting order. Royals lefty Jason Vargas then proceeded to stymie the Indians for six innings, sending the club to a 5-3 loss to open this three-game road series.

The players know that Francona is doing his part.

"Tito's doing everything he can," veteran Mike Aviles said. "He's putting guys in situations where he feels like they're going to succeed and hopefully it can get us rolling in the right direction. Right now, it hasn't clicked, unfortunately. We've got to get it going soon, because you can't be here all year saying, 'We can't get it going.' It's about time where we start making it go."

The biggest change made on Tuesday was moving switch-hitter Carlos Santana from the cleanup spot to the No. 2 hole. With the left-handed Vargas on the mound, Ryan Raburn was slotted into the fourth spot. Nick Swisher came off the disabled list, served as the designated hitter and batted sixth. Center fielder Michael Bourn -- recently pulled out of the leadoff spot -- was moved to the bench.

Francona offered a simple explanation for his decisions before the game.

"I just think that we need to try to do everything in our power to win as many games as we can," he said.

For one inning, the tweaks at the top paid off.

After leadoff man Jason Kipnis popped out, Santana worked a seven-pitch walk against Vargas, giving Cleveland's first baseman a team-leading 23 free passes this year. That set the stage for No. 3 hitter Michael Brantley, who drilled an 89-mph fastball down the right-field line for the outfielder's second home run of the season.

That sequence showed the idea behind moving Santana to the two-hole.

"I told Carlos before the game, I said, 'Don't change a thing you're doing at the plate,'" Francona said. "We don't want him all of a sudden to turn into a guy that's trying to move runners. That's not who he is, but his at-bats, just through the course of his normal at-bats, he's going to get on base. He's going to walk. That pretty much, right away, showed what can happen."

After that, Vargas settled in and shut the offense down.

Following Brantley's blast, the Indians went 1-for-18 against Vargas, who picked up his second win in as many starts against the Tribe. With the loss, Cleveland fell to 2-9 against left-handed starters this season. The only other hit allowed by Vargas came in the sixth, when Kipnis led off with a double, which was slashed to deep left field, just beyond the glove of Alex Gordon.

With Cleveland trailing 4-2 at the time, Kipnis' hit presented an opportunistic situation for Santana. The first baseman worked into a 3-0 count against Vargas and then hacked at an 87-mph fastball, which Santana beat into the infield grass for a groundout.

"It was a good pitch. I tried for good contact," Santana said. "I don't want to say I was trying for a home run, but on 3-0, we're losing by two runs, I tried to go for good contact to get an RBI."

Francona -- an advocate of swinging on 3-0 in certain situations -- defended Santana's approach.

"I wanted him to hit a home run," Francona said. "Our rule of thumb pretty much is, if you can tie the game with one swing, especially if you're one of our home-run hitters, [go for it]. The results obviously weren't what we were looking for."

The next two pitches from Vargas resulted in two more outs: a popout from Brantley and a groundout from Raburn.

"It's a shame, because the inning looked like it had a chance, and then it was quick," Francona said. "But again, when you have a runner on base, if guys get a pitch they like, that's what we're trying to do. Sometimes, you make outs."

It was a new-look lineup, but similar results.

"You go up there and you feel like we have a good matchup," Aviles said. "And then it doesn't play out the way we want it to play out. It hasn't actually this year at all."

Jordan Bastian is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, and follow him on Twitter @MLBastian. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.