The Cleveland Indians had one of the worst pitching staffs in all of baseball in 2012, and new manager Terry Francona thinks that the man he plans on handing the ball to on opening day, Justin Masterson, can help turn those fortunes around. If anybody has a reason to bank on Masterson, it’s Francona–and frankly, the Indians pitching staff really has nowhere to go but up.
Last year Cleveland starters posted an overall ERA of 5.25 and WHIP of 1.51., with only 73 quality starts–good for 28th, 29th and 24th in MLB respectively. It only gets worse from there. Indians starters were 28th in strikeouts (621), 29th in walks allowed (351) and dead last in hits surrendered (1026).
As I said, nowhere to go from up when you are looking at a train wreck that slammed smack into a dumpster fire.
Francona and Masterson have a relationship going back to their days together with the Boston Red Sox, where Masterson was primarily used in the Boston bullpen out of necessity. The Red Sox traded Masterson to Cleveland midway through the 2009 season, where he began his transition to a starter.
Once settled in the Indians rotation, Masterson was the guy who could give Cleveland a ton of innings pitched, and generally good ones. But in 2012 Masterson seemed to lose control of his trademark sinkerball, and with that he also lost 15 games. Masterson then got lost in the murk of Cleveland’s other failing starters and was victimized time and again for some huge innings.
Francona thinks that Masterson can not only turn himself around from a terrible season, but he can be a point-man for getting the Cleveland rotation back to respectability.
“I’m kind of betting on the person,” Francona said. “I’ve been around him probably longer than anybody. I think he’s at a point in his career where he understands the responsibility and he actually wants it. I think he’d be a good leader.”
When questioned about some of the big innings that Masterson gave up, Francona said, “He had some games that got away from him that drove his ERA up. Consistency in our game is one of the biggest and toughest [things] to do.”
Masterson is only 27, and throws a pitch–as long as he has command of it–that is well suited for the dimensions at Jacobs…err..I mean, Progressive Field. Throwing that heavy sinkerball and coaxing ground balls from hitters will shorten innings and save your arm, but when that spinning sinker doesn’t dip, you end up getting what Masterson encountered last year–lots of crooked numbers on the scoreboard.
Masterson just needs to do what more pitchers should try to do. In the immortal words of Ebby Calvin ‘Nuke’ Laloosh, “Don’t think, just pitch” If Masterson can stay within himself, and not talk himself out of continuing what’s working, he can bounce back to the type of breakout season he had in 2011.
Francona is a master at getting the most out of starting pitchers, and his history with Masterson suggests that naming him as the opening day starter, and for all intents and purposes making him the unofficial leader of the starting rotation, should help to tighten the numbers up.