Justin Masterson hasn’t looked very sharp so far this year for the Cleveland Indians. The 29-year-old right-hander started off the year with a superb performance in the season opener against the Oakland Athletics, tossing seven shutout innings. But since that strong showing the side-armer has allowed 19 earned runs in only 28 1/3 innings. There are a few noticeable reasons that point to why Masterson has been struggling recently.
The glaring difference between this year’s Masterson and the 2013 version is velocity. All four of Masterson’s pitches (two-seam and four-seam fastball, slider, sinker) have dropped in velocity, with the most significant change being the 4-seam fastball.
Last year the big righty topped out at around 95-97 miles per hour with the heat, but can’t get above 92 miles per hour this year. Masterson can’t account for the change, stating that he feels great and it’s just something that he will have to work through. Pitching coach Mickey Callaway feels the same way, adding that Masterson is throwing well, but he just doesn’t have it right now. Tribe fans are hoping both are correct and that Masterson regains that velocity very soon.
The other difference in Masterson’s game is that the slider doesn’t seem to have the same bite that it did a year ago. It is apparent that he is throwing “spinners” more often, as Tribe announcer Rick Manning likes to call them. That’s referring to when Masterson throws his slider, but it doesn’t really break at all (it just “spins”), and the hitters can tee off on the mistake. This could run parallel with the problem of velocity, but it’s unlikely because the break of a slider depends on how much the pitcher is snapping his wrist.
Whatever the case may be, Masterson’s arm isn’t the same as it was last year. The Indians are hoping their ace can get back to his All-Star form of a year ago, and will need him to if the they plan on staying in the AL Central division race.