Yes, there was a lot to be disappointed about on Thursday, but let’s focus on what went right.
Making his first opening day start, Justin Masterson turned in a Feller-like performance, becoming the first Tribe ace to strike out 10 batters while allowing one or fewer runs in the season opener since Feller himself in 1946.
Masterson set the tone in the 1st inning, during which he struck out the side, by feeding Toronto a heavy dose of sinkers (12 of 14 pitches). All told, Masterson threw 76 sinkers (out of 99 total pitches)and Blue Jays hitters offered at 35 of them, and failed to record a single hit off the pitch (0-13 on balls in play).
Perhaps the most encouraging sign from Masterson’s performance is the fact that he seamed to pick up right where he left off in 2011. The heat maps below show where Masterson threw his sinkers last year, compared to Thursday against the Blue Jays. While there is some minor variation, likely due to the small sample size, he essentially replicated his approach from 2011. And – despite a full year of film on Masterson and having faced him before – the Blue Jays still seemed unable to adjust to his stuff.
Prior to Thursday game, I tweeted out a link to Bautista’s heat map vs sinkers [pictured on right]. I was somewhat concerned because Bautista has the ability to crush sinkers that drift over the plate. However, if Masterson were able to keep the sinkers on the outside corner, he could keep the Blue Jays star slugger in check.
So the encouraging part of Masterson’s battle with Baustia was the fact that he did throw nine sinkers, and Baustia failed to put a single pitch in play. Just as the scouting report called for, Masterson fed him a steady dose of sinkers on the lower outside part of the plate and, with the exception of two swings (one miss, one foul) Bautista laid off the pitch.
The downside, however, was that Masterson did stray from the scouting report on one pitch. He threw a single slider to Baustia, a pitch which sailed straight down the upper-middle portion of the plate and landed somewhere over the left field wall. It was an inexcusable mistake, and hopefully just a pitch that got away rather than Masterson’s thinking he could sneak one past one of the American League’s most dangerous power hitters.
Overall, it’s impossible to be anything other than thoroughly impressed by Masterson’s performance. Opening Day can lead to some strange events, as we should all be well aware by now, due to the festivities, the nerves and the unpredictable and often unpleasant weather. So regardless of what transpired in the 9th inning and beyond, we should be encouraged by Thursday’s performance by the ace of the Tribe’s young pitching staff.