KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- C.C. Sabathia again pitched like one of the game's dominant left handers. And again, he didn't get a win.
Sabathia gave up two runs -- one on a ground out and the other on a sacrifice fly -- in eight innings, but suffered a 2-1 loss to the Kansas City Royals.
Zack Greinke and five Kansas City relievers combined on a six-hitter.
"When you only give up two runs in eight innings, you expect to win those games," said rookie Billy Butler, who had two of the five hits off Sabathia. "That's a tribute to how good our bullpen and Zack were today that we won. C.C. was efficient, getting ahead early, pounding the strike zone with that fastball. He was throwing hard and hitting his spots."
Sabathia (14-7) has won only once in his last seven starts despite a 2.13 earned run average. The Indians have scored a total of 18 runs in those Sabathia starts.
"I'm not frustrated," Sabathia said of the lack of run support. "That's just baseball. We've not played the way we're capable of playing. We haven't put that stretch together where we win eight out of 10."
Said Indians manager Eric Wedge, "Another great effort by C.C. that we didn't take advantage of."
Greinke, who was replacing the injured Odalis Perez in the rotation and started for the first time since May 6, limited the Indians to one hit in three innings. He walked one and struck out two. Greinke began the season in the rotation, but was sent to the bullpen after compiling a 1-4 record and 5.71 ERA in seven starts.
"I treated it like a regular bullpen outing, go in there and stay as long as you can until they take you out," Greinke said. "I stayed fresh pretty good. Everything feels good. I'll probably be ready to go again tomorrow like after a bullpen outing."
Left-hander John Bale (1-1) replaced Greinke and allowed two singles and struck out five in three innings to pick up his first major league victory since Aug. 29, 2003, while with the Cincinnati Reds against the St. Louis Cardinals. Bale has pitched the past three years in Japan.
"I was trying to stay aggressive, changing it up inside, move the ball inside and move the ball around," Bale said. My change up was effective, something I haven't had in the previous games. I finally found it."
Sabathia, who pitched at least eight innings for the eighth time this season, struck out six and walked one in eight innings.
"When you beat C.C., who had great stuff, maybe the best stuff we've seen all season, we needed to pitch the way we did tonight to win," Royals manager Buddy Bell said. "Zack pitched great and Bale pitched outstanding. Really Bale saved us."
The Indians started the night with a 2 ½ game lead over Detroit in the AL Central.
Mark Grudzielanek led off the Royals' fourth with a walk and stopped at third on Billy Butler's double to left. Grudzielanek scored on Emil Brown's groundout to short.
The Royals manufactured a run in the fifth. Tony Pena Jr. was hit by a Sabathia pitch on a 2-2 count to start the inning and took second on a passed ball by Victor Martinez. Joey Gathright's sacrifice bunt moved Pena to third. Esteban German's sacrifice fly to center scored Pena.
"If we don't have situational hitting, then we don't win," Royals catcher John Buck said. "But we executed, moved runners over, and that's why we won."
The Indians cut the lead to 2-1 in the seventh when Ryan Garko's two-out single scored Grady Sizemore, who led off the inning with a walk and moved to second on Travis Hafner's hard one-hopper snared by a diving Grudzielanek.
Asdrubal Cabrera tripled with one out in the eight, but David Riske struck out Kenny Lofton and retired Casey Blake on a grounder to Grudzielanek to strand him.
Rookie Joakim Soria worked the ninth for his 14th save in 17 opportunities, although he gave up a leadoff walk and a single.
"We had a a shot to tie or take the lead," Wedge said. "We're still seeing some issues with our offense - consistency, or lack of."
Royals DH Mike Sweeney, who had arthroscopic surgery July 5 on his right knee, went 1-for-3 Friday in his first rehab game for Triple-A Omaha against Round Rock. ... The Indians are 7-12 on Saturday, their worst record for any day. ... The Royals are 9-2 in their past 12 games at Kauffman Stadium.