CLEVELAND (AP) — Luke Scott can’t do anything but keep swinging.
His hitless streak, now approaching a major league record, has overwhelmed him.
“It has caused me a lot of sleepless nights and a lot of tears,” he said. “It has cut my heart in two.”
Scott went 0 for 3 and set a Tampa Bay record by going 39 consecutive at-bats without a hit as the Rays were beaten 3-1 on Thursday night by the Cleveland Indians, who got seven stellar innings from starter Josh Tomlin and three solo homers.
The Rays have dropped eight of 10 and their offense has scored more than four runs just once in the past 11 games.
That’s awful, but nothing like what Scott is enduring.
The 34-year-old hasn’t gotten a hit since June 1, spent three weeks on the disabled list with a bad back and is now seven at-bats shy of tying the major league record for futility, set by Eugenio Velez last season.
“I would rather take a beating and be bleeding in the street than to go through this,” Scott said. “Am I letting my team down? Yes. Have I ever taken a moment off and been unprepared? No. Do I know why this is happening? No. It is humbling and very deflating. I take it personally that I am not helping my team.
Tampa Bay manager Joe Maddon played Scott, the team’s usual designated hitter, in the field for the first time this season, hoping a change of scenery would shake him out of his prolonged slump. However, Scott grounded out, fouled out and flew out before being lifted in the seventh inning.
Scott broke the previous club record of 37 consecutive hitless at-bats held by Jose Cruz Jr. (2004).
“Obviously, he hates it,” Maddon said. “But he’s never thrown stuff around during this. Going through this very tough time, he has been a great teammate. He’s just in one of those moments.”
Shin-Soo Choo homered leading off the first against Jeremy Hellickson (4-5), Michael Brantley connected in the second and Travis Hafner homered in the eighth for the Indians, who have won six of eight.
After trying out four other players in the leadoff spot, manager Manny Acta moved Choo to the top of the batting order on May 14. It may be his best decision all season.
“He was the ideal guy,” Acta said. “He’s a natural for that.”
In 48 games as the leadoff hitter, Choo is batting .327 (64 of 196) with eight homers, 20 RBIs and 42 runs. He has raised his average 60 points from .235 to .295.
“He’s been phenomenal,” said Brantley, who spent 22 games as the primary leadoff hitter before Choo took over. “It’s nice to have somebody on base with the two, three, four guys coming up. It gives us a big boost, it’s going to create more runs and hopefully he can keep swinging it the way he is. He looks real good.”
Tomlin (5-5) limited the Rays to one run and two hits, easily the right-hander’s best outing since April. He didn’t allow a walk, struck out three 58 of 88 pitches for strikes.
“This was just a good ballgame that was lost,” Maddon said. “I have no problem with the way we played. Their guy (Tomlin) has been tough against us. He was sharp. Knowing that we have not been prodigious offensively probably gave him the confidence to throw more strikes.”
Vinnie Pestano worked the eighth and All-Star closer Chris Perez finished up for his 24th save — all in a row since blowing one on opening day.
The Rays fell to 4-13 against the AL Central.
“We’re all messed up,” Maddon said. “It’s not just this team. They play well against us, but there’s real good pitching in this division. Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City, this division is pretty good.”
Hafner gave Cleveland a big insurance run in the eighth, connecting off Jake McGee. It was only Hafner’s second game back after missing a month following surgery on his right knee. His towering homer into the right-field seats was his seventh this season and first since May 23.
The Indians have been waiting for Tomlin to regain his consistency. He pounded the strike zone against Tampa Bay, retiring the side in order five times and getting a big assist from Choo to end the sixth.
With two outs, Rays outfielder Ben Zobrist hit a drive to right that pushed Choo up to the wall before he made a staggering, backpedalling catch.
“Zo had four good swings, could have had home runs,” Maddon said.
Choo led off the first with his ninth homer, and fourth in the No. 1 slot, driving a 2-0 pitch from Hellickson over the wall in right.
Brantley made it 2-0 in the second with his third homer — and second in two days.
The Rays closed within 2-1 in the fifth. With one out, Will Rhymes hit a ball to deep right that just missed leaving the field and caromed off the wall. By the time Choo ran it down, Rhymes was at third with a stand-up triple. Jose Molina followed with an RBI groundout.
Tampa Bay could have threatened in the eighth when Elliot Johnson lined a single into the left-field corner off Pestano with one out, but he was thrown out trying to stretch into a double it by left fielder Aaron Cunningham, who came in as defensive replacement for Johnny Damon an inning earlier.
NOTES: The Rays had never lost a game by surrendering all the runs on three solo homers. … Tampa Bay fell to 16-41 at Progressive Field. The Rays have started a pitcher age 30 or younger in 979 consecutive games, a major league record. The last Tampa Bay pitcher over 30 was Mark Hendrickson, who was 32 when he started on June 25, 2006, against Atlanta. … Rays OF Matt Joyce, out since June 20 with a strained left oblique, was eligible to come off the disabled list Thursday. Instead, he was sent home with a stiff back, the result of sliding during a rehab game. “It’s nothing awful, but he’s just not able to compete before the All-Star break,” Maddon said.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.