CLEVELAND -- Rookie right-hander Jefry Rodriguez pitched well enough to win once again and once again the Indians hit poorly enough to lose.
Cleveland’s offensive-less trek through the season continued in earnest Tuesday night at Progressive Field as the Indians managed only five hits and were shut out for the second time in three games -- 2-0 by the White Sox.
The Indians, who owned the worst team batting average (.213), slugging percentage (.338) and OPS (.634) in the American League through Monday, have lost three straight, while scoring once over their last 27 innings.
“Not panic,” said manager Terry Francona, when asked what he could do to help solve his team’s collective hitting struggles. “That’s not easiest thing to do. You show up and you want to win so bad, but sometimes you gotta be patient even when you don’t want to be.
“I believe in our guys and you can’t just pat them on the back when things are going great. That’s the easy part. When it’s not looking so rosy, that’s when you gotta really keep at it. If I don’t (believe in them), how do I expect them to?”
It doesn’t even take a good pitcher to beat the Indians these days, with right-hander Lucas Giolito becoming the third straight starter with an ERA above 5.00 to earn the decision.
The unheralded Giolito used a fastball and change-up combination to baffle the Indians, who managed only two hits over the first five innings. He allowed three hits, walked three and struck out eight over 7 1/3 innings.
Giolito’s approach was similar to plenty of pitchers who have handled Cleveland hitters this year.
“There’s enough fastball where it’s getting past our barrel and then the change-up off of that,” Francona said. “A lot of times it’s in a fastball count, when we’re ahead, and we’re just not making the adjustment yet. We have hitters that will. We haven’t to this point.”
Rodriguez, who has allowed two runs or fewer in each of his three starts, deserved a better fate.
He struck out three and retired six of the seven batters he faced over the first two innings, allowing the game’s first run on a one-out single from Joan Moncada, who homered and drove in four runs in a 9-1 series-opening win Monday night.
Rodriguez worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the fourth inning and retired the side in order in the fifth before allowing another run in the sixth on a one-out single from James McCann.
“I thought he competed like crazy on a night where really his breaking ball wasn’t much of a factor,” Francona said. “He really had to fight with basically his fastball. I thought he showed a ton of composure. Even his misses weren’t bad misses.
“The way he handles himself, I’ve said it before, it’s easy to view the glass as being more full than empty, just because there’s gonna be more in there, too. He gets us a little excited.”
In perhaps what was a good sign on a bad night for the Indians was the performance of All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor and second baseman Jason Kipnis. The scuffling duo combined for all of their team’s five hits.
They were the catalysts in one of Cleveland’s rare scoring opportunities in the eighth inning. Lindor singled with two outs and advanced to third on Kipnis’ second double, with each moving up when Jose Ramirez walked to load the bases. Carlos Santana struck out looking on a borderline 3-2 pitch to end the threat.
“I think the more at-bats he accumulates, as long as he’s healthy, he’s gonna be a great player. He just is,” Francona said of Lindor.
Santana has been the Indians’ only consistent offensive threat and has thrived with runners in scoring position, but went 0-for-3 in the situation.
“He’s not going to hit in every game,” Francona said. “He’s been so good, that’s kind of the way the game goes when you hit a little bit of a rough patch.”
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