Indians keep struggling to score, lose in Atlanta
ATLANTA -- There were some woulda, coulda, shouldas for the Indians Tuesday night in Atlanta, and even a ‘should they have?’
But the bottom line of a series-opening loss to the Braves comes down to this: In the first game of an important nine-game stretch, the Indians could not find a run.
And because they couldn’t, everything else that happened in the game took on brontosaurus-like proportions.
“Pitchers have been carrying us for a couple weeks,” outfielder Michael Bourn said. “We got to find a way to score some runs.”
It’s a curious reality for the Indians this season. They have won every game when the opposition has not scored, and they have yet to win when they do not score.
And because the Indians did not score against Alex Wood and four relievers, every other play and decision was magnified. Especially Elliot Johnson’s at-bat against Danny Salazar in the second inning.
Johnson, the eight hitter, came to the plate with two on and two out.
Salazar by his own admission struggled from the get-go.
“I was a little bit disappointed in myself,” he said. “Because I felt great, but I don’t feel like I could find a release point.”
Salazar threw five fastballs in a row to Johnson, who was signed by Kansas City Aug. 21 after being released by the Royals, where he left on an 0-for-31 slump. That had him hitting .180 against right-hand pitchers when the game started.
In a National League game, Indians manager Terry Francona knew he had the pitcher on deck so an intentional walk was in the discussion. But Francona also felt Salazar could -- and should -- get a guy who hit .179 in Kansas City and was hitting .076 his last 36 games.
So Francona said the intentional walk was not logical.
“The idea is you really have the advantage when you have an eight hole hitter and have the pitcher up behind him,” Francona said. “(Runners on) second and third, maybe, but a guy who’s hitting one (something) … that’s a real good time to pitch. You set up the next inning also.”
Because a young and talented starter ought to be able to get the out, plain and simple.
Salazar threw five fastballs in a row to Johnson, when catcher Carlos Santana called for an offspeed pitch.
“I thought he had made a good pitch prior, threw a fastball in and kind of sped (Johnson) up a little bit,” Francona said. “Then he shook (Santana off) and went fastball away.”
Salazar suggested he should have gone with Santana’s call.
“I just didn’t trust myself to throw it,” Salazar said. “I tried to throw fastball away.”
Except he put it in the hitting zone, just above the belt and over the outside part of the plate. Johnson drove the ball to deep right, where Stubbs went back and had the ball in his glove, but lost it as he turned to hit the wall.
“I thought I could have caught it,” Stubbs said. “I don’t know if the wall knocked it out on contact or if it never was in my glove.”
That one play mattered, but the Indians struggles at the plate meant it mattered disproportionately. The team that has made a living out of two-out rallies this season could not scrape one together.
The Indians left 10 on base, and went 0 for 7 with runners in scoring position. In three of the first four innings, the leadoff hitter got on without scoring as the Indians stranded six in those innings alone.
Wood was especially effective, giving up no runs in 5 2/3 innings despite giving up five hits and four walks.
“He dominated, pretty much,” Bourn said. “Ain’t no pretty much about it. He dominated.”
In their last 23 games, the Indians have scored 76 runs -- 3.30 per game. The league low for the season in runs per game is Miami’s 3.22. In 14 of the last 23 games, the Indians have scored three runs or fewer.
“We got to find a way to score,” Bourn said.
Because when they do, all the coulda, woulda and shouldas won’t matter.
But until they do, all the questions and second-guessing and next-day manager chatter will loom larger than it probably should.