CLEVELAND -- A lack of timely hitting best describes the Cleveland Indians’ first two games at Progressive Field in 2017.
During that span, the Tribe has batted 0-for-18 with runners in scoring position as they spoiled a dominant outing from Danny Salazar to lose 2-1 to the Chicago White Sox on Wednesday evening.
On the season, the defending American League champions are hitting .155 (11-for-71) with runners in scoring position and have scored three or fewer runs in each of their four defeats.
Damage control and a career-high for Salazar
A quality start for Salazar could have been much worse had he not pitched out of an early run-scoring opportunity with limited damage.
Cody Asche (walk) and Avisail Garcia (double) reached base to set up a two-run single from Matt Davidson in the second. Salazar escaped with just two runs charged to his ledger thanks to a caught stealing at second and strikeout of Tyler Saladino.
“In the (second) inning, they got two. They got a walk, 1-2 double, 1-2 base hit, Roberto (Perez) with a real strong throw to end that inning,” manager Terry Francona said in reflecting upon the crooked number hung in the second frame. “Then after that, it was – for the most part – he really got into a good groove.”
Four innings of scoreless baseball ensued as Salazar tied his career-high in strikeouts with 11. He retired 10 of the final 11 hitters he faced with the only baserunner reaching on Salazar’s dropped catch error.
“I feel comfortable right now,” said Salazar. “I think I got to keep working on it. And just being aggressive, try to get ahead the whole game and we’ll be fine.”
In his five years at the big league level, Salazar has four outings with 11 punchouts. He nearly tied Sam McDowell’s franchise record for the most strikeouts through the first two starts in a season with 20 (21 strikeouts in 1970).
Encarnacion squanders valuable run-scoring opportunity
Nate Jones got another chance to hold a lead just one day after escaping trouble despite walking three batters in one inning. Two base knocks delivered by Carlos Santana (single) and Francisco Lindor (double) had the home crowd roaring and manager Rick Renteria dialing the bullpen phone for closer David Robertson in the eighth.
Only one run came out of the rally as Michael Brantley notched an RBI groundout before Edwin Encarnacion struck out and Jose Ramirez grounded out to first.
“I just need to keep making adjustments,” said Encarnacion through the team’s translator Anna Bolton. “That’s what this game is all about is making adjustments. That’s what I need to do to get unstuck as they say.”
Encarnacion is now batting .185 (5-for-27) on the season with a double, home run and RBI.
Aside from a rather pedestrian day at the plate, the Tribe was able to make a pair of jaw-dropping defensive plays.
In the fifth, Santana made a full-extension dive to his right on what looked to be a hard-hit single off the bat of Melky Cabrera. Instead, Salazar dropped Santana’s throw to ruin the defensive spectacle.
In the eighth, Jose Ramirez also took away a hit from Cabrera by ranging far to his right and throwing out the runner from shallow center field.
“He’s a good defender wherever you put him,” Francona said.
Boone Logan, Dan Otero and Zach McAllister combined for three shutout innings out of the bullpen to keep a crowd of 15,628 fans on the edge of their seats in hopes that the home nine could come back and win.
Their valiant attempt fell just short.
Otero’s 1.01 ERA (44.1 IP, 5 ER) is now the lowest earned run average in the history of Progressive Field for all pitchers logging at least 25 innings.
Central Division update
The Tigers (6-2) took care of the Twins (5-3) to secure a series victory and gain sole possession of first place in the AL Central.
The first series at Progressive Field wraps up on Thursday at 6:10 p.m. ET.
RHP Josh Tomlin (0-1, 11.57) takes the hill in pursuit of a bounce back outing after allowing six runs on seven hits in 4.2 innings of work last Friday. The 32-year-old did not walk a batter in his final 31 innings in 2016 to finish with a 5.90 strikeout-to-walk ratio, the new franchise record.
RHP Miguel Gonzalez (1-0, 3.00) will make his second start of the season against an Indians offense that has battered him for six earned runs in 11 innings when playing within the confines of Progressive Field.