CLEVELAND -- Dustin Nippert's night started off with two scoreless innings and ended with him retiring 12 of the last 13 batters he faced. When he was done, he had struck out a career-high 10 batters over six innings. He just had one terrible stretch where six straight hitters reached base, and that ultimately cost him in a 5-0 loss to the Indians on Tuesday night at Progressive Field. "That third inning was a disaster," Nippert said afterward. "I have no idea what happened."
Those runs cost him, because the Rangers could do nothing offensively all night against Indians left-hander Aaron Laffey and two relievers. Texas had seven hits and two walks but went 0-for-4 with runners in scoring position, left nine on base and had just one extra-base hit. The Rangers were shut out for the sixth time this season, equaling their total from last year. "We were just a flat team coming off an off-day," outfielder Marlon Byrd said. "We have an offense that can come back and score runs and negate that one inning, but tonight we didn't do it. Tomorrow we just have to come out focused and score early." Both teams had one serious chance for a big inning. The Rangers couldn't seize their opportunity against Laffey in the first. The Indians did so against Nippert in the third. The Rangers' best threat came in the first, starting when Omar Vizquel led off with a single to center. After Michael Young flied out, both Byrd and Andruw Jones worked walks to load the bases. That brought up Josh Hamilton, who showed up in Cleveland with nine hits in his past 25 at-bats. The Rangers were hoping that was a sign he was ready to break out, and he was 2-for-4 on Tuesday night. But the hits came at the wrong time. This time Hamilton fouled off one slider and hit another at second baseman Luis Valbuena to start an inning-ending double play. "First at-bat, I hit a grounder up the middle with the bases loaded -- double play," Hamilton said of hitting into a double play for only the fourth time this season. "My last two at-bats, grounders up the middle -- base hits. I usually don't get doubled up. The first pitch [Laffey] threw me was a hanging slider. That was the one." Apparently the second pitch wasn't any better. "It was a breaking ball," Laffey said. "A bad one. You've got to love it when you don't throw it where you want to and the guy puts it on the ground." It was the Rangers' best chance. The Indians didn't let theirs' slip away. The Cleveland third started with a pair of singles by Grady Sizemore and Asdrubal Cabrera. Ironically, on a night when Nippert set a career high in strikeouts, both those hits came with two strikes. Sizemore, after falling behind, 1-2, singled on a 2-2 pitch, and Cabrera was down, 0-2, in the count when he singled to right. "I went back and looked at those pitches," Nippert said. "One was down and in, a good pitch. The pitch to Sizemore was a changeup over the plate. I wanted to get it down in the zone, but he put the ball in play and got a hit." Nippert hit Shin-Soo Choo with a pitch to load the bases. Then he started getting a bit shaky, walking Jhonny Peralta to force in the first run of the inning. Travis Hafner's single to right brought home a second run and Valbuena lined a two-run double down the right-field line to make it 4-0. "OK, [Nippert] hits Choo and the bases are loaded," Rangers manager Ron Washington said. "You figure the guy on third base is going to score, but if you can get a double play there, you can minimize the damage. But the next few pitches were up in the zone." Nippert, with runners on second and third, struck out Kelly Shoppach, but Trevor Crowe lined a sacrifice fly to center to bring home the fifth run of the inning. "When I went back and looked at it, I thought I made some good pitches and they found some holes, and there are some pitches I'd like to have back," Nippert said. "They had some good at-bats. It felt like the harder I tried, the harder they hit the ball. Finally I had to back off." Nippert was brilliant after the damage was done, striking out eight of the last 13 batters he faced. "I still felt we could scratch out some runs and get back in it," Washington said. "We just didn't do it."
T.R. Sullivan is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.