CLEVELAND -- Patterns can dissolve just as quickly as they develop this time of year. The weather, at some point, will warm (we think), and what is true today might not necessarily be true tomorrow.
But if you had to pick out a pattern to the first 2.5 percent of the White Sox schedule, it is unmistakable. Some shaky defensive moments and bullpen ineffectiveness have left the club with a record that does not really reflect the positivity provided by the starting arms. And the victim of this particular pattern in Monday’s 5-3 loss to the Indians in the home opener at Progressive Field was Ivan Nova, whose strike-laden seven innings of work was the antithesis of the relief crew that followed him.
“You still have to score more runs than the opponents,” manager Rick Renteria said. “You can’t make a lot of mistakes.”
The Sox have made more than their fair share in the early going.
The defense, meanwhile, hasn’t been all bad, but some early hiccups -- for instance, a popup falling between Eloy Jimenez and Tim Anderson during a three-run third in Saturday’s loss to the Royals, or Yolmer Sanchez getting a glove on but not snagging a soft Hanley Ramirez liner that brought home the first run of the Tribe’s eighth-inning rally in this one -- have stood out.
“I don’t know that I’m looking at horrendous play,” Renteria said. “Not at all. We can do better for sure.”
The issues are unnerving, because the Sox got a solid start from Carlos Rodon on Opening Day (three runs, two earned, over 5 1/3 innings), a dominant outing from Giolito on Sunday (two runs on three hits over 6 2/3) and a tremendous effort by Nova in this opener of a two-game set with the Indians. Even Reynaldo Lopez’s unfortunate four-plus inning affair on Saturday (four runs on six hits with four walks) wasn’t all on him, because that missed popup was one of multiple miscues in the field.
So the Sox don’t have to squint too hard to find a positive in their 1-3 start.
But that doesn’t make the record any easier to stomach.
“The wins are going to come” Nova said. “We’ve just got to stay positive, stay together and work hard.”
If Monday was any sort of window into Nova’s contributions toward that end, he’ll prove an impactful offseason pickup. His 19 innings without a walk in the Cactus League didn’t count, but they did prove to be precursor to seven innings of work against the Indians in which Nova allowed just a run -- on a ground-ball RBI single from Carlos Santana that squeaked through the right-hand side of the infield in the sixth -- on six hits with a walk and four strikeouts. When yet another popup dropped between Jimenez and the shortstop (this time, Jose Rondon, filling in for Tim Anderson after Anderson left the club when his wife went into labor just before the game) in the first inning, Nova calmly pitched out of the jam.
Though the Sox were stymied by a magnificent Mike Clevinger for seven scoreless innings, they found life against the Tribe’s bullpen, and the short-handed bench delivered pinch-hitter Ryan Cordell’s go-ahead two-run homer to dead center off of Jon Edwards that made it 3-1.
Then came the walks. Four of them, one intentional, in the eighth. Jace Fry walked leadoff man Leonys Martin. Jake Bauers doubled to put two runners in scoring position, and Renteria went to Dylan Covey to intentionally walk Carlos Santana and try to get a double-play grounder. Instead, Ramirez’s liner got past Sanchez to make it 3-2, Max Moroff singled home another run to tie it, and Covey walked home the go-ahead run on just four pitches to Roberto Perez. Frare added to the fray by walking pinch-hitter Greg Allen to bring in yet another run.
“The game,” Fry said, “sped up a little bit today.”
It’s been that way for the White Sox so far. In defensive effort and ‘pen performance, they have not been sharp. They’ve gotten some good starts, and yet they’re off to a rough one.
Rodon (0-1, 3.38 ERA) will make his second start of the season opposite Indians ace Corey Kluber (0-1, 2.57) as the White Sox wrap up a brief two-game set at Progressive Field on Wednesday at 12:10 p.m. CT before flying to Chicago for Thursday’s home opener.