It won’t be Justin Masterson‘s first Opening Day start for the Cleveland Indians when he takes the mound on Tuesday, but there’s little question that this one has a whole lot more riding on the line than the opportunity he was given in 2012.
This time last year, the 28-year old entered the season on the heels of a breakout 4.3 fWAR season that solidified him as the unequivocal ace of the Tribe’s staff. In 2013, however, the right-hander will be looking to answer some pretty hard questions for the team.
Was 2012 a mirage? Will Masterson be anymore more than an 2.0 fWAR inning-eater with a four-plus ERA? Is he the pitcher that can take the Indians to the level of contention that they’ve been gunning after?
The last question is perhaps the most important, and it’s also the most pressing for Cleveland in the coming season.
This is, after all, a team that finally went out and spent the money to put together an offense worthy of its AL Central divisional rivals. The dollars going to Nick Swisher, Michael Bourn and Mark Reynolds aren’t just for show, and to say that optimism for the franchise is at a high not seen for years is an understatement.
However, the biggest question mark on the team remains, and it’s remains on the mound.
No starting pitcher has really distinguished themselves remarkably in Spring Training other than the feel-good story of No. 5 starter Scott Kazmir, which is to say that if there’s anything for the Indians and their fans to worry about, it’s going to be the starting five.
Masterson not only has the job of proving doubters wrong about himself on Opening Day for the 2013 Indians, but he will also carry the all-important tone-setting weight of showing that this team can win with the starting pitching they currently have.
That job can’t go to Ubaldo Jimenez or newcomer Brett Myers, and it sure isn’t going to rest on the shoulders on Kazmir. No, despite the upgrades they’ve made, the Indians were always prepared to tie their fate by Masterson’s performance in 2013 — and that’s something that the righty should both be acutely aware of and excited about.
On Tuesday night against the new-look Toronto Blue Jays, he’ll be given a chance to spread that excitement to the rest of his team and fans in Cleveland.