CLEVELAND (AP) — Indians manager Terry Francona’s 55th birthday ended on a down note.
The reason was another poor outing by 24-year-old pitcher Danny Salazar.
Salazar — a highly touted right-hander — remained winless on the season after allowing five runs, four of them earned, and seven hits in 4 1-3 innings Tuesday as the Kansas City Royals beat Cleveland 8-2 in front of a sparse crowd.
“I don’t want to put it all on youth, but with experience, Danny is going to learn to do this better,” Francona said. “Regardless of how much time you spent in the minor leagues, when you come up to the big leagues, there’s a learning curve. He has the stuff to go through the lineup multiple times. It’s just a matter of executing pitches.”
Salazar (0-3), who started and lost the 2013 AL wild-card game, struck out six and walked two before being chased in the fifth on Billy Butler’s RBI double. He also allowed a three-run homer to Mike Moustakas an inning earlier.
Salazar has pitched into the sixth only once in four starts. He expressed concern that he is tipping his pitches, saying he feels “totally focused and aggressive” and can’t explain why his ERA has ballooned to 7.85.
Salazar, who didn’t allow a hit until the fourth, is searching for answers.
“Maybe I’m doing something obvious, so they know what’s coming,” said Salazar, who is 1-7 in 14 starts since winning his big league debut on July 11, 2013. “Today, I felt like I was totally focused and aggressive on every pitch. I don’t know what it is. Baseball is tough. You just have to keep your head up, I guess.”
When the subject of his birthday was raised before the game, Francona joked, “I don’t think I feel a day over 75.” He may have actually felt that age when the Indians couldn’t record their first three-game winning streak of the season.
Cleveland took a 1-0 lead in the second when Michael Bourn singled home Asdrubal Cabrera, then scored its other run in the sixth on a Yan Gomes’ RBI double. Kansas City went ahead for good in the fourth when Salazar allowed four runs, including Moustakas’ three-run blast into the Royals bullpen.
“The first three innings, Salazar was tough,” Kansas City manager Ned Yost said. “He was nails. His split was tough.”
Royals right-hander James Shields (2-2) was even better in winning his third straight start against Cleveland. He gave up two runs, one of them earned, in six innings while striking out nine.
Bourn, Gomes and Nick Swisher had two hits apiece for the Indians.
“Unfortunately, Shields is pretty much the same every time we see him,” Francona said. “He’s one of the best.”
Cleveland collected nine total hits off Shields and relievers Danny Duffy and Aaron Crow, but Carlos Santana went 0 for 4 and is in a 2 for 43 slump.
Eric Hosmer had four hits for Kansas City, which tacked on a run in the seventh off C.C. Lee and added two more in the ninth off Scott Atchison.
The attendance of 8,848 was just 122 more than the Progressive Field record low set on April 3, 2011 against the White Sox. The game-time temperature was 50 degrees, but a strong wind made it feel much colder.
NOTES: Francona said the squirrel that ran on the field Monday during Cleveland’s 4-3 victory brought back memories of managing winter ball in the Dominican Republic. “It was about 15 minutes before the game and there was a goat, a dog, and a chicken in center field,” he said. Francona said the intruders were removed before the first pitch. … Royals first base coach Rusty Kuntz, who suffered a broken left wrist during batting practice Monday, will undergo surgery Wednesday at Cleveland Clinic. Major league coach Mike Jirschele will fill in for Kuntz. … Royals left-hander Jason Vargas (2-0) faces Indians right-hander Justin Masterson (0-0) in the third game of the four-game set Wednesday at 7:05 p.m.