CLEVELAND — The Indians got a quality outing from starting pitcher Danny Salazar on Wednesday night, but the White Sox got a better one from left-hander Derek Holland.
It neither hurt Holland nor helped Salazar that Cleveland’s offense continued to sputter, with the Indians managing only three hits — none with runners in scoring position — in a 2-1 loss to Chicago that evened the Central Division series at a game apiece.
Indians hitters have gone cold since scoring 21 runs in a season-opening, three-game sweep at Texas, plating only 10 runs over their last five games — four of them losses.
“That’s normally the way it is at the beginning of the season,” manager Terry Francona said of the cold spell. “Carlos (Santana) really cooled off, Edwin (Encarnacion) hasn’t gotten going yet. That’s our leadoff and our cleanup hitter. Jose (Ramirez) has not had a ton of hits.
“That’ll change. Everybody wants it to change yesterday, myself included, but you’ve got to be patient. It will change.”
Something that didn’t change was Holland’s mastery of the Indians, especially at Progressive Field. In five career starts, the Newark native has posted a 4-0 record and 1.02 ERA — the lowest ERA at the park by an opposing pitcher with at least 30 innings.
He entered the night with a 5-1 record and 2.60 ERA lifetime against Cleveland.
“I thought early in the game he established his fastball, and then after that he just started throwing like a back-foot breaking ball and changeup,” Francona said of Holland, who didn’t allow a hit through the first five innings. “It seemed like he put the fastball in our heads, and then he went to his off-speed and was really good. We hit a few balls hard and on a night when we needed something to drop, it didn’t, but we didn’t have a whole lot going against him.”
Outside of a rough second inning, when the White Sox scored both runs, Salazar matched Holland’s effectiveness. He lasted six innings, allowing four hits while matching a career high with 11 strikeouts.
“He was strong,” Francona said of Salazar. “Two walks, 11 strikeouts. Unfortunately, one of the walks scored. In the inning they had two, he had a walk, 1-2 (count) double, 1-2 base hit. Then after that, for the most part, he really got into a good groove. I thought he was pretty good.”
Salazar recorded nine of his strikeouts after the fateful second inning.
“I think I just got wild a little bit. I got it back on track,” said Salazar, who allowed only one hit and walk after the second. “I feel comfortable right now. I think I’ve got to keep working, just being aggressive, try to get ahead the whole game in the count and we’ll be fine.”
The Indians managed just one scoring chance off Holland, with Francisco Lindor’s double to the gap in left center ending the no-hit bid to start the sixth. A one-out walk to Encarnacion followed, but Ramirez lined to right field and Brandon Guyer popped out to end the threat.
Cleveland, which went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position — 0-for-18 over the first two games of the series — scored its only run in the eighth, and Lindor was a catalyst again.
His double followed Santana’s infield single to start the inning, leaving runners on second and third.
Michael Brantley grounded to first to score Santana, but Encarnacion struck out and Ramirez grounded out to end the inning.
Encarnacion, who is expected to be big part of the offense after signing the largest free-agent contract in franchise history — three years, $60 million — is batting .172 (5-for-29) with a home run, one RBI and a team-leading 12 strikeouts over eight games.
His lack of production has mirrored pretty much everyone in the lineup, save Lindor, who is hitting .333 with a team-leading four homers and eight RBIs.
Still, the Indians are confident their hitters will find their groove at some point.
“The bats are a little bit slow right now, but they’ll get it, I know they’ll get it,” Salazar said. “They’re amazing. It’s early in the season.”