It’s really no secret that the key to the Indians’ season lays at the feet of the rotation, namely the team’s top two starters — Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez. And Masterson, facing a very heavy left-handed Toronto lineup on Opening Day, bobbed-and-weaved through six innings, limiting the Blue Jays’ newly retooled club to just one run on three hits.
But if the Indians truly hope to make a playoff push this season the Jamaican-born right-hander will need to pitch far better from here on out, relying more on his talent and far less on luck.
Masterson’s four-seamer easily sat in the mid-90s, touching as high as 97; his trademark two-seamer offered plus-movement, sitting in the 90- to 92-mph range; and his slider showed tremendous two-plane break at times. He also looked like he was trying to cut his fastball on a few occasions too.
And while the stuff is big league rotation quality, the name of the game has always been command with the 6-foot-6 groundballer.
Masterson really struggled through the first three innings, throwing a lot of pitches — somewhere north of 60 — and regularly battled mechanical issues that inhibited his ability to keep the ball in left-handers; either cutting himself off and causing the ball to drift back towards the right side of the box or overemphasizing the need to keep the ball in on left-handers which led to a lot of misses in and off the plate. By my count it didn’t appear that he threw more than two quality strikes against southpaws during the early goings, the first of which came in the second inning against Jose Reyes.
The second half of his start — innings four through six — were definitely better, mainly because of improved command of his slider. And he retired the final 11 hitters in order (edit: I had seven when in fact he retired the final 11).
Overall, this was not a good start for Masterson. He regularly missed his target by several feet and routinely gave up loud outs to both left- and right-handers (including the run-scoring double-play to Adam Lind). He also waited too long to establish his slider, which drew some awkward swings early in the game and should have been on the hook for at least three runs, not one.
Yes, the Indians won. But a lot of it was based on Toronto giving it away — thank you, J.P. Arencibia — and Cleveland being on the fortunate end of “at ‘em balls.” And, unfortunately, there was little difference between the early 2013 version of Masterson and the one that struggled in 2012.
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