Reporting Matt Loede
CLEVELAND (92.3 The Fan) – This past offseason the Indians and the pocketbook of the Dolans rebuilt the Tribe’s offense into what they hope will be strong enough to pound out enough runs to be competitive in 2013.
As for the pitching staff, the team did pick up one starter in Brett Myers, one that was a relief pitcher in 2012, but other than that, they stood pat with two pitchers they feel will have big rebound seasons from last.
Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez.
Both last season were being counted on as the one and two in the rotation. They stayed in those spots the entire season, but minus a few starts here and there for each, the 2012 year was a disaster for each.
Masterson’s season was filled with as many head scratching starts as any pitcher in recent memory. The best example of how Masterson’s season went could be defined in two starts – back to back.
On June 20th, he dominated the eventual NL Central champion Cincinnati Reds in a start at home. He mixed his pitches, ending the night with a complete game allowing a run on three hits, not walking a batter and striking out nine in an Indians 8-1 win.
Fast forward six days later, June 26th. Pitching in the Bronx vs the Yankees, Masterson was shelled. He managed to go six innings vs the Yankees, but was beat up for four runs on seven hits with three walks and two strikeouts.
The Indians lost the game 6-4, and Masterson’s poor outing was front and center. He wound up the year 11-15 with a 4.93 ERA.
After the season, he stated that his season was affected by the offseason shoulder surgery on his non-throwing shoulder.
The Indians had interest from the Red Sox for Masterson’s services, but with new manager Terry Francona in his corner, the team felt that his 2011 season (12-10, 3.21 ERA) is more the type of pitcher they will have moving forward than the one that struggled through a lot of last season.
Then there is the saga of Ubaldo Jimenez.
Last season he led the AL in losses with 17 to go along with just 9 wins, and the 29-year-old had an ERA of 5.40. He did have 143 K’s, but walked 95 batters and had 16 wild pitches.
Many Indians fans feel they got scammed in the deal that sent two former number one draft picks to Colorado for Jimenez, and it will be up to him to change their minds this season.
“Hopefully this year is going to be different,” Jimenez said on MLB.com. “Last year my mechanics were terrible. It was a mess.”
New Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway spent considerable time with Jimenez this offseason in the Dominican, and even Francona made a visit.
If Jimenez can’t turn around how poorly he’s pitched in the season and a half with the Indians (he’s 13-21 with a 5.32 ERA), the leash has got to start being at least tugged this season.
For now, the Indians brass still seems believe that he will be able to turn around his terrible 2012.
“I think he still has great stuff and the ability to be a very effective Major League starting pitcher,” Tribe GM Chris Antonetti said on MLB.com. “But as we’ve talked about, the thing that’s the key for him is consistency. It starts with his ability to execute his delivery consistently.”
Combined, the two starters at the top of the Indians rotation were 20-32, and in a season in which the team is expected to be much more competitive, those numbers are not going to fly.
Masterson and Jimenez’s success, or lack thereof, will be followed closely through spring training to the two pitchers first starts in Toronto to begin the season.
The Indians don’t need them to both be 20-game winners (though they would love to have it), but they also cannot derail the season entirely with poor starts twice a week.
It’s a critical season for both. If one of the two or both can’t get back on track from the awful 2012 seasons they had, it will be time for the Indians to start figuring out who will lead the rotation.
The pair have the support of the front office and their teammates.
It’s up to them to forgot about last season, and take advantage of the ‘wipe the slate clean’ approach of Francona and the new look Tribe.