Cleveland’s offensive struggles continued Monday night as the Indians (1-3) dropped the series opener against the Chicago White Sox (2-2) at Progressive Field.
The White Sox jumped on Josh Tomlin early as Alejandro De Aza deposited his 2-1 fastball into the right field stands to lead off the top of the first. Paul Konerko reached on an infield single three batters later, and A.J. Pierzynski‘s subsequent two-run shot gave Chicago a 3-0 lead before the Indians even got to hit.
Things quieted down for the next few innings as Tomlin calmed down and Chris Sale breezed through the Indians’ lineup, but the White Sox struck again in the top of the fifth as De Aza reached on a two-out double and scored on Brent Morel‘s RBI single to make it 4-0 Chicago.
Cleveland finally got on the board in the bottom of the sixth. With two outs, Sale missed too far inside on his 0-2 pitch to Shin-Soo Choo and drilled him in the hand with a 95 mph fastball. After taking a couple minutes to get back on his feet, Choo stole second and then scored on Carlos Santana‘s RBI single.
Both teams’ bats were silenced until the ninth as Addison Reed and Matt Thornton held the Indians down while Jairo Asencio, Dan Wheeler, and Rafael Perez managed to keep Chicago off the board. Jose Lopez battled Hector Santiago for eight pitches in the bottom of the ninth before belting a leadoff home run, but his dramatic hit didn’t ignite a rally and the Tribe lost, 4-2.
The Good: Shin-Soo Choo. In addition to just having a solid game—he got on base thrice, scored a run, and stole a base—the persistence he showed in the sixth inning was truly inspiring. When he fell to the ground after being nailed in the same hand that had to be surgically repaired after he got beaned last year, I don’t think I was alone in fearing for the worst. Yet he got up and took his place at first base, then immediately stole second. That he got a hit in his next at-bat was just icing on the cake.
Another interesting positive was Josh Tomlin’s strikeout stuff. The seven punchouts he racked up in just five innings of work tied a career high for him, and while it’s only one game I think it’s incredible that a pitcher who fanned just 4.8 batters per nine last year has a 12.6 K/9 rate after his first outing in 2012.
The Bad: Josh Tomlin comes in here, too. Tomlin more or less makes up for his usual lack of strikeouts by his miserliness with walks (it’s been exactly a year since the last time he walked more than one batter in an outing), but home runs are a problem for him. That he served up a long ball to the first batter he faced this year and then gave up another four batters later is troubling—it’s probably exaggerated in our minds since it was the first inning of his first game this year, but a homer every two-and-a-half innings isn’t a good pace to be on.
An honorable mention here again goes to the Indians’ offense in general. Sure, Chris Sale was tough and there were a lot of regulars out of the lineup (Michael Brantley, Jack Hannahan, Travis Hafner, and Casey Kotchman all got the night off), but Cleveland’s offense is averaging 2.7 runs per nine innings this year. That’s not good.
The “Huh?”: Hitting Jose Lopez fifth. Unless you think Manny Acta expected him to hit that ninth-inning homer, putting Lopez in the middle of the lineup didn’t make any sense at all. Lopez was the second-worst hitter in the lineup (I’d take him over Lou Marson, but that’s about it), and I have no idea what the rationale could have been for putting him ahead of Shelley Duncan and Jason Kipnis.
Interesting Tidbit: Had Manny Acta not changed up the lineup Monday, it would have marked the first time the Indians had used the same batting order in each of their first four games since Pat Corrales filled out the lineup cards in 1984. That lineup: Brett Butler, Tony Bernazard, Julio Franco, Andre Thornton, Pat Tabler, Brook Jacoby, Ron Hassey, George Vukovich, Otis Nixon.