By Marla Ridenour
Beacon Journal sports columnist
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ATLANTA: Indians outfielder Drew Stubbs might believe in deja vu, but he might never have lived it so vividly as he did in the second inning Tuesday night.
He made a great running catch on his first chance, but couldn’t pull off virtually the same play four batters later. The result was a two-run triple by Elliot Johnson that provided all the offense the Atlanta Braves needed as the Indians dropped the opener of a three-game interleague series 2-0 at Turner Field.
Indians rookie right-hander Danny Salazar sailed through the first inning, retiring three Braves on fly balls to the outfield. But Chris Johnson opened the second with a shot to the warning track in right. Stubbs raced back and hauled it in.
That was a hint of things to come.
After Salazar walked Brian McCann, Joey Terdoslavich followed with a single to deep right that sent McCann to third. Andrelton Simmons sent a liner to short for the second out before Johnson drove a Salazar offering to nearly the same spot in front of the right-field fence. This time, Stubbs got a glove on the ball, but it bounced in front of him as two runs scored.
“I don’t know if the wall knocked it out or what,” Stubbs said. “I did have a glove on it. I thought I could have caught it.”
Asked if it was similar to the first out of the inning, Stubbs said, “It looked like it was 20 or 30 feet more towards the foul line, so it brought the wall into play a little bit more.”
Tribe manager Terry Francona had no problem with the route Stubbs took on Johnson’s triple.
“I thought he gave a great effort,” Francona said.
Salazar said he shook off catcher Carlos Santana, who called for an off-speed pitch. Because he was having trouble with his release point and all his pitches were up, he went with a fastball to Johnson.
“Santana was calling for off-speed pitches, but I didn’t trust myself to throw it,” Salazar. “I threw the fastball away.”
Francona could also have intentionally walked Elliot Johnson to load the bases with the pitcher due up, but nixed that option.
“Second and third, maybe,” Francona said.
The game started a crucial nine-game stretch for the Indians, who began the day 5½ games behind the Detroit Tigers in the American League Central and two games behind the Oakland Athletics for the second wild card. After Atlanta, the Indians visit the Tigers for three games, then host the Baltimore Orioles, hot on their heels in the wild-card race.
One game should not discourage the Indians, although it should put some urgency in their bats after they totaled just six hits. They also wasted a strong effort from the bullpen as Marc Rzepczynski, Matt Albers and Carlos Carrasco followed Salazar and held the Braves hitless.
“They were tremendous,” Francona said. “They zig-zagged through the rest of the game and gave us a chance.”
In the matchup of rookies, the Tribe managed just four hits off Braves left-hander Alex Wood, who was making his eighth career start. Wood (3-2, 2.27) threw 5⅔ shutout innings, walking four and striking out five.
“There’s a lot of deception in his delivery and there’s some late movement,” Francona said of Wood. “Not a hard thrower, but there’s a ton of deception.”
As for Salazar, he rebounded from the second inning. But with the Indians monitoring his pitch count after reconstructive elbow surgery in August 2010, Salazar was allowed to go only four innings. In his fifth career start, Salazar, 23, gave up three hits, walked two and struck out three.
“He just made the one mistake,” Francona said of Salazar (1-2, 3.67). “That was the offense for them. He did a good job. We’re in a position where when he has long innings, we owe it to him and the organization to take him out. There’s going to be a day when we can turn him loose and let that four turn into six or seven, but not right now.”
If only Salazar could hit, too.
One of the Indians’ threats came in the fourth, when Asdrubal Cabrera led off with a double to left center and advanced to third on a fly ball by Michael Brantley. But Stubbs hit a ball back to the pitcher, and Salazar struck out.
The pitcher’s spot in the order came up at a crucial time again in the sixth after Brantley singled and Stubbs walked with two out. Jason Giambi pinch-hit, but left-hander Scott Downs got him to strike out.
Brantley also came close in the eighth, sending a deep fly to center with Cabrera on first.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read her blog at http://www.ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.