KANSAS CITY -- Indians starter Corey Kluber looked to the third-base dugout and pointed to his right calf. Following seven strong innings, the heat and heavy humidity at Kauffman Stadium finally took a toll. Kluber tried to fight through it, but he knew he had to exit after firing a warmup pitch to the backstop.
Kluber cramped, and then the bullpen crumbled in a stunning 7-3 loss to the Royals on Monday night.
"It was pathetic, really," reliever Jeff Manship said. "Plain and simple."
With fewer than two weeks remaining until the Aug. 1 non-waiver Trade Deadline, the Indians' biggest need is help for their bullpen. That has been a clear area of need throughout this season, but it was never more evident than in this loss. Kluber walked off the mound with a 2-0 lead and then watched setup man Bryan Shaw and Manship cough up seven runs in the eighth.
It was a swift downward spiral that began with a chopper back to the mound and ended with a grand slam.
"Obviously, it's frustrating," Kluber said.
Starting pitching is what has paved the Indians' way to the top of the American League Central, and Kluber continued that trend on a hot Monday night. In his first outing since the All-Star break, which included picking up the win for the AL, Kluber went seven shutout innings, striking out eight. As he has done so often, Kluber left with the Indians in a position to win.
The turbulent bullpen did not hold up its end of the bargain.
Shaw, who had a 13-game scoreless streak that dated to June 14, when he also blew a save in Kansas City, took over and immediately induced a bouncer off the bat of Alcides Escobar. Shaw stabbed at the ball, smacking it with his glove towards Juan Uribe. The veteran third baseman could not make a play, but shortstop Francisco Lindor had a shot at it before the deflection.
"If he just lets it go, we probably get an out," manager Terry Francona said.
Things escalated in a hurry from there.
Eric Hosmer singled up the middle. Shaw then fell behind, 2-0, to pinch-hitter Christian Colon, who was trying to bunt Escobar and Hosmer up 90 feet apiece. Instead, Colon ripped a pitch to deep center for a tying two-run double, which included him being thrown out trying for a triple. Shaw later issued a pair of two-out walks, leading Francona to turn to Manship.
"I definitely let the whole team down," Manship said. "I let Corey down. I let Bryan down. I gave up his runs. That stinks, for sure. Definitely. I feel sick to my stomach about how that went."
Shaw shook his head when approached by reporters, exiting the quiet visitors' clubhouse without comment.
For the past month, Shaw has been solid out of the eighth inning, but the heavily-used setup man has been prone to lopsided lapses at times this year. The biggest problem has been falling behind in the count -- an issue that arose again on Monday night. For every scoreless week, there has seemingly been a drama-filled outing from Shaw.
"Bryan's had his moments," Francona said, "where it hasn't gone the way he wanted to. But, he's been good for us for a while now. It's just when you fall behind like that, you run the risk of something like that happening."
Cleveland could use some late-inning insurance as it continues its march toward October.
Manship feels it's on the relievers already in hand to shore things up.
"It's just something we need to control and address," he said, "and go out there and not really let happen again. It's easier said than done, but we've just got to kind of check ourselves and do what we can do."
Jordan Bastian has covered the Indians for MLB.com since 2011, and previously covered the Blue Jays from 2006-10. Read his blog, Major League Bastian, follow him on Twitter @MLBastian and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.