Reporting Matt Loede
CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – The Indians wake up in first place this Friday morning, and with it the team has finally started to get some solid contributions from their “ace” of the staff, pitcher Justin Masterson.
Sure Masterson is just 4-6 on the season, but make no mistake, after dominating the Reds on Wednesday night at Progressive Field, he’s starting to show the form that made him one of the better, yet undervalued pitchers in the American League last season.
His linescore against the Reds showed just how good he can be when his sinker and slider are on. Nine innings, 3 hits, one run, no walks and nine strikeouts.
“When he’s on, he’s very tough,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said after the game Thursday. “He was on (Thursday). It was mostly fastballs and sinkers and some sliders and the occasional changeup. Mostly, it was his sinker. You could tell by the number of balls we hit into the ground.”
The Indians know that if they are going to stay in first and hold off the White Sox and the Tigers, Masterson is going to have to be the core of the rotation.
Indians manager Manny Acta is included in the list of knowing that Masterson has to be the teams ace for now and the rest of 2012.
“We feel right now,” Acta said, “the way he’s throwing the ball over his last four outings, we have the guy that we had last year who, every five days, regardless of who’s pitching for the other side, we have a very good chance to be in the game.”
Masterson has shown the ability to match up with the best in the game. In his four wins he’s beaten the White Sox, Tigers, Pirates and now the Reds. Three of those four of those teams are over .500, and consider his opponent when he beat the Tigers 2-1 back on May 24th – Justin Verlander.
Wednesday night Masterson threw 66 sinkers and 25 four-seamers, and also threw in 19 sliders. When he’s able to mix his pitches and get his four-seamer over, he’s tough to hit.
“He was mixing his speeds up anywhere from 95 to 87,” Todd Frazier of the Reds said. “He was trying to get your timing off a little bit. That’s what he did. He’s a good pitcher. “You don’t know where it’s going. They could set up outside. Outside to him might hit outside, but it’s going to end up at your knees low and in.”
Consider the last four starts for Masterson as he’s been heating up. He’s given up just four earned runs over 29 innings (1.24 ERA) with 27 strikeouts against six walks.
In three NL outings while the Indians have been in Interleague, he’s given up one earned run in 23 innings (0.39 ERA) with 24 strikeouts and three walks.
Masterson also just wrapped up a streak of consecutive scoreless innings at 18.
For the Tribe ace, Wednesday was his fourth straight quality outing, and if the offense can give him the run support like he got on Wednesday, there’s no doubt he will be tough to beat as the second half of 2012 approaches.
Now if the team can count not only on him but number two starter Ubaldo Jimenez to stay on their current pace, the Indians have a good a shot as any to take home the AL Central.