CINCINNATI -- Pitchers are taught to break things down into increments, focusing on the task at hand without thinking too far ahead. It still would not have hurt for Indians starter Danny Salazar to glance at the on-deck circle in the second inning on Wednesday night.
With Reds pitcher Mat Latos awaiting his turn to bat, Salazar committed one of baseball's cardinal sins. The right-hander surrendered a two-out, three-run home run to Cincinnati's eighth hitter, Zack Cozart, creating an early hole that sent the Indians on their way to an 8-3 defeat in the opener of a two-game visit to Great American Ball Park.
"Two outs, two strikes on the eight hitter," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "It's just the location of a breaking ball. And that's been something that Danny has battled. It's not not knowing who's hitting or things like that."
Maybe not, but Salazar's missteps were magnified by the absence of offense from Cleveland's lineup, which struggled to get much going during Latos' time on the mound. The end result was a second straight loss at the hands of Cleveland's in-state rival from the Senior Circuit, giving the Tribe one more game to salvage a split of the annual Ohio Cup series.
The rout was on for the Reds, but Salazar's abbreviated effort did the Indians no favors.
Following the loss, the Indians optioned Salazar to Triple-A Columbus with the plan of recalling reliever C.C. Lee to give the bullpen an extra arm. With off-days coming up on Monday and Aug. 14, Cleveland is using this stretch to give Salazar some added rest. In all likelihood, the righty will be summoned back from the Minors to start for the Indians on Aug. 17 against Baltimore.
"I feel fine. I'm good," Salazar said. "But, if they want me to [rest], I'll take it. They made the decision, so I have to do it."
Francona and pitching coach Mickey Callaway walked through the situation after the game with Salazar, who is scheduled to work with a pitch limit for Columbus on Tuesday. That will give the right-hander an extra day off between outings before returning to Cleveland.
"We're basically just moving him back like four or five days," Francona said. "We're trying to mix and cover a lot of things. ... This was the best time to do it, and we can help our bullpen in the meantime. So, we're trying to cover health, production in the bullpen and winning. Hopefully we'll do all three."
Entering the evening, Salazar had gone 3-0 with a 2.00 ERA and no home runs allowed in three starts (18 innings) since being recalled from Triple-A Columbus and being inserted back into Cleveland's rotation. The hard-throwing right-hander breezed through his first four batters faced on Wednesday with three strikeouts and a groundout before hitting a snag.
Brayan Pena got things rolling for Cincinnati with a one-out single in the second inning, and Kris Negron later reached on an infield hit off Salazar, putting two aboard with two outs for Cozart. Heading into Wednesday's action, there had only been 22 two-out home runs in the Majors this season by a No. 8 hitter in a National League venue.
Cozart upped that total by one by yanking a 2-2 pitch from Salazar deep to left field, where the ball caromed high off the foul pole for a three-run home run. The blast was only the third of the season for Cincinnati's shortstop.
"I tried to throw a slider down and away," Salazar said with a shrug. "I kind of dragged the pitch a little bit and I just missed the spot."
Negron kept things going for the Reds in the fourth, when he sent the first pitch he received from Salazar out to left field for a two-out, two-run homer that pushed Cleveland behind, 5-0. That was the last inning of work for the Indians' starter, who struck out five, surrendered five hits and walked none in his four-inning showing.
"He's been phenomenal," Indians catcher Yan Gomes said of Salazar. "It's what we've needed from him. I wish he could've gone as good as every other outing, but I think he's going to have a hiccup like this. I think he's been bouncing back pretty good from these little hiccups."
Cincinnati later added three runs in the seventh inning off reliever Scott Atchison.
Complicating matters for Cleveland was the lineup's inability to break through against Latos, who turned in seven scoreless innings before yielding a leadoff home run to Gomes in the eighth inning. Following the blast -- Gomes' 16th homer of the season -- the Indians kept their rally going with a two-run, pinch-hit double from Ryan Raburn.
Latos gave the Reds 7 2/3 innings and Cincinnati's bullpen did the rest, halting the Tribe's late rally attempt to seal the loss.
More frustrating for the Tribe might be what happened when Latos was standing in the on-deck circle.
"It's kind of something that, us not playing in the NL so much," Gomes said, "we don't realize that until you look back and you're like, 'Oh, man, you've got Latos there.' It's definitely tough. ... You could tell [Salazar] was definitely frustrated and he knew what his mistakes were."