Westbrook, bats rusty in opening loss
Starter struggles through four-plus innings against Chicago
CHICAGO -- Jake Westbrook has seen better days in an Indians uniform, and Manny Acta will have better days in an Indians uniform.But Opening Day? Not a good day for the guy returning to the big leagues or the guy arriving to the American League. Acta's Indians are 0-1 because of a rusty Westbrook and a brilliant Mark Buehrle. Making his first start at this level in nearly two years because of 2008 Tommy John elbow surgery, Westbrook threw a team-record-tying four wild pitches. His teammates, meanwhile, mustered just four base hits. This poor wild pitch-to-hit ratio goes a long way toward explaining a 6-0 loss to the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field. Actually, Westbrook found a different way to explain it. "I think you just chalk it up to me not pitching very well," Westbrook said. "I'm done with the excuses of not having pitched in a year and a half. I'm done with those. Now it's just a matter of getting out there and doing better. I didn't pitch very well today, and it hurt us." Westbrook's line was ugly: four-plus innings, five runs, five hits, four walks, one strikeout, one homer, two hit batters and four wild pitches. Only three other times in Tribe history had a pitcher thrown that many wild pitches in a single game. Steve Hargan did it in 1965, and "Sudden" Sam McDowell did it in 1961 and '64. What happened to Westbrook? "He's a veteran and all that," Acta said. "But he hasn't been out there in this type of situation in a while. In Spring Training, it's a different adrenaline rush than how he was today. He was a little bit jumpy." Buehrle was not. He blanked a purportedly potent Tribe lineup for seven innings and made one of the more incredible defensive plays you'll ever see on a baseball field. But more on that play in a bit. Because by the time it was made in the top of the fifth, the Indians were already in a hole from which they would not escape. Westbrook put them in that hole after retiring the first two hitters he faced on ground balls. For a moment, it seemed the sinkerball-tossing, ground-ball-inducing Westbrook of old had returned from rehab hibernation and come back whole. Then Carlos Quentin lifted a double to the right-field corner. And Paul Konerko followed by pounding a belt-high sinker that didn't sink over the right-center-field wall. Just like that, it was 2-0 White Sox in the first. "I was aggressive," Westbrook said. "The first two guys, I was aggressive throwing fastballs. I tried to stay that way. Quentin and Konerko put good swings on the ball. It was a bad pitch to Konerko, and he did what he normally does to bad pitches." More bad pitches came in the third. Gordon Beckham singled, and Westbrook plunked Quentin and walked Konerko. Before the walk was issued, Westbrook uncorked the first of two wild pitches in the inning, allowing Beckham to advance to third. Beckham scored when Mark Kotsay grounded into a fielder's choice at second, and Quentin scored when Westbrook threw his second wild pitch, this time to Alex Rios. Westbrook threw another wild one in the fourth and a fourth in the fifth. Not even Sandy Alomar Jr.'s rigorous catcher's conditioning program could prepare rookie Lou Marson for this. "Just changeups, too short," Westbrook said of the pitches. "Lou's doing a good job of blocking them up, but they just got away, and the White Sox baserunners did a good job." Marson had a different take. "I've just got to block that ball and keep it in front of me," he said. "That's on me. So I'll work on that." When it comes to blocking balls, Marson could take a cue from Buehrle, who performed a magic act on him in the fifth. Marson hit a comebacker that might have gotten through, had Buehrle not stuck out his left foot and sent the ball ricocheting toward the first-base line. As Marson streaked toward first, Buehrle chased down the ball, scooped it in his glove and then snapped it through his legs into the outstretched bare hand of Konerko at first. Marson was out by a step. "It just kind of happened," Buehrle said. "I didn't know I got it to Konerko until the crowd started going crazy. I didn't plan on doing that." Marson could barely believe it himself. "I don't think he even looked at the bag," Marson said of Buehrle. "I kind of saw him do it in the corner of my eye, in my peripheral vision. I was just trying to beat it out." Given the Indians' offensive struggles, Buehrle and the White Sox had already done enough to beat them by that point. But an extra run was tacked on in the bottom of the fifth. Westbrook left the bases loaded for reliever Aaron Laffey, who induced a Kotsay double play that scored Beckham from third. And Tony Sipp surrendered an Alex Rios solo shot in the eighth. The Tribe bats were blanked on Opening Day for the first time since 2005. The pitcher that day? Buehrle, of course. So the Acta Era and the Westbrook return are both off to rough starts. But this was just a start and nothing more, in Acta's eyes. "You know what?" Acta said. "It's good [Westbrook] got this one out of the way." And Acta probably felt the same way about himself.
Anthony Castrovince is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.