Published April 09, 2012
CLEVELAND – The Indians aren't panicking about their lack of offense.
Unless they start hitting, they'll have no other choice.
On Monday night, Cleveland was dominated by Chris Sale making his first career start for 6 2-3 innings and the Indians managed just five hits in a 4-1 loss to the White Sox.
Through four games, the Indians are batting just .153 and have scored 14 runs — an average of 2.7 per nine innings.
"We've just got to stay positive," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "Four games does not define the offense of a ballclub. We've been pitching good, which gives the offense time to get going. But it is tough when you are not generating any offense as we are right now."
Sale pitched out of Chicago's bullpen the past two seasons but was moved into the rotation after ace Mark Buehrle left as a free agent this winter. The left-hander, who had made 79 relief appearances, took a one-hit shutout into the sixth. In his longest outing, Sale allowed three hits and struck out five.
"First one," he said. "So far, so good."
The 23-year-old had little trouble with a Cleveland team that is just 23 for 150 and have scored 10 of their 14 runs on homers.
"It's not really a big concern because we're only four games into the season," third baseman Jason Donald said. "Once just a few guys get it going, the others will feed off that. It should come around."
A.J. Pierzynski hit a two-run homer in the first, four batters after Alejandro De Aza homered leading off against Josh Tomlin (0-1) to stake Sale to a 3-0 lead. The lanky 6-foot-6 Sale took it from there, handling the Indians with ease and making Chicago's decision to convert him from reliever to starter look good after one game.
"He threw great," said first-year manager Robin Ventura. "We probably could have left him in there. Very happy with what he did tonight. He had velocity and a slider to go with it. He's been kind of doing that all spring and it's kind of nice to see him bring that outside of Arizona."
Rookie Hector Santiago gave up Jose Lopez's leadoff homer in the ninth before getting his second save, closing out Sale's first win.
"That's a view of the future," starter Jake Peavy said to reporters as Sale dressed nearby.
The White Sox hope so.
Acta rested some of his left-handed regulars after a long season-opening series with Toronto and because of how tough Sale can be on lefties.
It didn't do much good.
Sale handled Cleveland's right-handed hitters, too.
"He was overpowering at times," Acta said. "He had a good fastball with tail and a sharp slider. He's very deceptive and runs into the 90s with sink."
When the White Sox selected Sale in the first round in 2010, the team's immediate need was for a reliever and he had been reliable in that role. But Buehrle's departure left open a spot in the rotation and the White Sox decided to pulled him from the bullpen. If his first start is any indication, he seems to be in the right spot.
Sale coasted into the seventh before giving up a leadoff single to Shelley Duncan. He came back and got Jason Kipnis to hit into a double play, but Ventura, who said before the game that Sale was not on a strict pitch count, decided 100 was enough and pulled his young lefty.
As he stepped into Chicago's dugout, Sale was warmly greeted by high-fives from his teammates.
Sale credited Pierzynski with calling a good game behind the plate.
"He was huge," Sale said of his catcher. "He called a great game. It sounds stupid, but I was just out there throwing the pitches."
The White Sox needed just five batters to double their home run total for the season in the first.
De Aza connected on Tomlin's fourth pitch for Chicago's first leadoff homer since Oct. 2, 2009. Paul Konerko hit a grounder up the middle that shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera caught up to but didn't field cleanly. Pierzynski followed by rocketing a 2-0 pitch into the lower seats in right to make it 3-0.
The three runs matched the entire amount allowed by Cleveland starters Justin Masterson, Ubaldo Jimenez and Derek Lowe in 22 innings.
Tomlin dusted himself off after the rough beginning and recorded his seventh strikeout in the fifth before De Aza doubled with two outs and scored when Brent Morel lined an RBI single off first baseman Lopez's glove.
"I felt good, but I just fell behind to those hitters early," Tomlin said. "You throw a ball over the middle of the plate to a major league hitter and they will make you pay."
Sale allowed only Aaron Cunningham's two-out single in the second and carried a 4-0 lead into the sixth before the Indians finally scored.
With two outs, Sale hit Shin-Soo Choo on the left hand, sending Cleveland's right fielder sprawling in the dirt near home plate. Last season, Choo missed eight weeks after his left thumb was broken by San Francisco's Jonathan Sanchez and needed surgery. Choo stayed in and promptly stole second before Carlos Santana brought him home with a single to right.
"That was a big scare," Acta said. "It shattered his thumb protector. He came back and swung well and got a hit. So I don't think there's any fear."
Notes: De Aza's leadoff homer was only the second by an opponent at Progressive Field in five years. Seattle's Ichiro Suzuki did it last Aug. 22. ... Tomlin allowed more than two runs in the first inning for the first time in 39 career starts. ... Cleveland's bullpen has allowed one run over the past six innings.