Let’s just get it out of the way first: Justin Masterson had a really horrid start on Monday night. He went all of 2.0 innings, gave up 6 hits, 5 earned runs, and 3 walks while recording one lone strikeout. It was somewhere around the middle of the 2nd inning, right around the time that Justin Masterson hit Francisco Cervelli with a pitch, that I found myself quoting the most often-used line in the Star Wars franchise.
Masterson faced two batters in the 3rd, walking Mark Texeira and giving up a single to Brian McCann. By then he had thrown 50 pitches. Kyle Crockett came in and helped to staunch the bleeding. He didn’t give up any runs but did balk and hit a batter. All things considered, the game could have been much, much worse. The Indians bullpen came in and did its job, pitching 7.0 innings, giving up 6 hits, zero runs, and striking out 7.
The Indians were hitless against Yankee rookie Shane Green. They didn’t manage a hit until Nick Swisher (who’s still only batting a buck-ninety-eight) hit a solo home run to break up the no hitter and the shut-out. Coming against his former teammates, that had to feel good. The Indians scored again in the 6th on an RBI single by Asdrubal Cabrera that drove in Chris Dickerson, who made his debut as an Indian this evening, and in the 8th on a solo home run that Yan Gomes absolutely crushed into left field.
Judging from the way the first few innings went, it was a pleasant surprise to go into the bottom of the 9th with the score 5-3 and a genuine chance for Cleveland to come back. Michael Brantley (who has now gone 53 plate appearances without a strikeout, the longest active streak in the majors, and four consecutive multi-hit games) started the Indians’ half of the 9th with a single. Then Carlos Santana struck out swinging and Lonnie Chisenhall lined out to right field, and it was up to Nick Swisher to save the day. He was out on a fly ball to right. Coming against his former teammates, that had to feel less good. That’s kind of how the whole game felt. Less good. Early on, it looked like it might be a blow-out, but the bullpen shut down the Yankees, and the Indians rallied back a bit. That’s good. Just less good than if they had won.
This is Masterson’s third really crappy start in a row. People have been speculating all year as to what’s wrong with Justin Mastserson, like they did here, here, here, and here. It all seems to come down to control and velocity. Masterson threw 54 pitches tonight; only 24 were strikes. And his fastball was in the 88-91 mph range, down considerably from the 96-97 he threw in 2013. He’s pitched at least 180 innings each of the last four years (twice more than 200). Not the most in the majors, but certainly not the least. The best guess is that he’s nursing some hidden injury. Maybe he goes to the DL to rest and get his head together. Maybe Pitcher Whisperer Mickey Callaway is able to work some magic with him. Maybe he’ll work it out on his own. It’s going to be difficult if not impossible for the Indians to move up in the standings if the bullpen gets the workout it did tonight every 5th start.