CLEVELAND (AP) - Two games, a mere blip on baseball's sixth-month schedule. Normally, back-to-back losses would be brushed aside.
The Cleveland Indians, though, can't ignore them so easily.
For the first time this season, they've hit a rough patch.
On Thursday, the Indians lost 7-4 to the Tampa Bay Rays, dropping the final two games in their series against a team they've dominated at Progressive Field in recent years.
James Shields pitched seven strong innings for his first career win against Cleveland. The Rays handed Justin Masterson (5-1) his first loss and the Indians, playing their second straight game without Grady Sizemore, had two runners picked off, killing potential rallies.
``I don't think it's a good idea to be getting picked off,' said Indians manager Manny Acta, who was blunt in his assessment. ``I don't have to go out there with a big sign to tell them that. We have to take care of those (outs) because they're precious. There's only 27 of them.'
Not having Sizemore didn't help.
The club's leadoff hitter, who has played like the three-time All-Star he was before undergoing season-ending knee surgery in 2010, sat out with a bruised right knee. Sizemore injured his knee - not the same one he had operated on - while making a hard, late slide into second on Tuesday.
An MRI exam showed only a bruised kneecap, and both Sizemore and the Indians want to be cautious before he plays again.
``Obviously after last year, you don't want to have to go through any injuries,' he said. ``But with what I had last year is the reason why we're taking this slow and making sure we're OK. I understand it. My goal is to be here all year and finish the season here, not to push through it and make something worse.'
Sizemore said he was relieved the tests were positive. He also described the pain being in a ``similar area' to where he hurt his left knee.
``After what happened last year, I was obviously a little scared to be in the same situation,' he said. ``But everything came back positive, and now I just want to make sure I'm healthy before I go back out there.'
It's not clear when Sizemore will be back in the lineup. He hinted it could be a few days before he returns.
The Indians, who have stunned many with their strong start, are only complete with Sizemore batting leadoff and playing center. Since being recalled on April 17, he was batting .282 with six homers, 10 doubles, 11 RBIs and 15 runs in 18 games.
Asdrubal Cabrera homered for the Indians, who had their 14-game home winning streak stopped by David Price on Wednesday. They had just as much trouble with Shields (4-1), who gave up two runs and scattered seven hits. The right-hander came in 0-4 in six career starts against Cleveland, the only AL team he had never defeated.
``I beat Cleveland, at Cleveland,' Shields said, smiling. ``I got one more on my bucket list.'
The Rays scored four in the second off Masterson, who had trouble locating his fastball and didn't go at least six innings for the first time this season.
``We know he's not going to spend the whole season being perfect,' Acta said. ``He had an off-day today, but he's come a long way. He kept us in the game for the most part. It's better than the times last year he didn't do that.'
After the Rays loaded the bases on a walk and two singles, Brignac gave them a 2-0 lead with a two-run double, his first extra-base hit in 105 at_bats. Brignac had hit nothing but singles since Sept. 22, but slapped a double into the left-field corner.
One out later, Sam Fuld made it 4-0 with a two-run single off Masterson, who didn't give up four runs in any of his previous seven starts.
Masterson managed to hang around until the sixth, but with the Indians unable to mount any threat against Shields, they lost for the fifth time in eight games.
There seem to be reasons for worry.
Masterson, though, isn't concerned.
``It's two games,' he said. ``If we stick to losing just two games once in a while, I will take that in a heartbeat. Our execution has been off and that's what we've been doing well. We'll get back to that, and you'll see a lot of good things.'
NOTES: Despite the slide, the Indians are 23-13. Last year, they were 15-21 after 36 games. ... Rays OF Johnny Damon had two hits, moving him into a tie for 73rd place on the career list with 2,605. Next up for him are No. 72 Jimmie Foxx (2,646) and No. 71 Ted Williams (2,654). ... Young guns: With an average age of 26.3, Cleveland's pitching staff is the majors' youngest.
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