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.

 

For prospect analysis check out Joe’s site: ProspectDigest.com

18 Comments

  • thirdsaint says:

    I dunno, if he didn’t bounce back in innings 4-6 I would say it wasn’t a good start but he turned what was a below average start into a solid one by the end. For Game 1 of the season I say it was good enough and the last 3 innings were encouraging.

  • DaveR says:

    I think this is the kind of start we hope for with the Indians. Escape enough trouble and leave with a low tally on the board so Vinny, Perez, and crew can close out and maybe one of the big bats can put one in the stands.

  • nikki says:

    He actually retired the last 11 batters he faced, starting with Lind’s double play in the 3rd. I don’t think his outing was as bad as you’re making it sound.

    Did he have more walks than he should have? Yep.

    Did he dominate? Nope.

    But he made his pitches when he had to, and he avoided giving up the big inning like he was doing in 2012. It wasn’t a perfect outing, but I’ll definitely take it!

  • Joseph Werner says:

    You are correct, Nikki. Thanks for the good catch.

  • Josh says:

    Regardless if it was rocky, he still ended up with a quality start. He was able to get out of all the jams that he created, and rarely does a pitcher ever get away unscathed without some help from the defense.

    The pitching coach had a talk with him after the 3rd inning, and not surprisingly he made in game adjustments and then blew threw the lineup the rest of the way. It wasn’t a perfect start, but to say that 6IP with 1 ER is bad regardless of the other stats is just not correct. Let’s give him a few more starts before we start being so negative about him.

  • Joseph Werner says:

    Josh,
    I don’t think I was being overly negative. I just wrote down my observations from the game. I understand that this is one game and that he allowed just one ER. But the lack of quality pitches concerns me none the less, especially considering his recent track record. Thanks for reading.

  • Matt Weisgarber says:

    If pitching 6 innings and giving up 1 run is a bad start I hope all our pitchers have bad starts this year. He showed toughness and grit by retiring the last 11 batters after a rocky start. That game could have gotten out of hand but, like we would expect an Ace to do, he put on his big boy pants when the game was on the line and held the lead.

  • Jerry Greer says:

    Great game! But the strikeouts with runners on 2nd and 3rd was painful to watch. I have the feeling M. Reynolds will whiff 200 times this year leave a slew of runners on base.

  • Larry C says:

    Wow, it’s as if you haven’t watched much baseball and are trying to convince yourself and everybody else that you have. Masterson’s outing was solid. Was it great? No, and me calling it great would come off like I was the one who really hadn’t watched much baseball. First of all, let’s not forget that he limited a potent lineup to 1 run on 3 hits. His control wasn’t great early on, but that happens to many good pitchers. The better ones make adjustments and get through it, and that’s what Masterson did. He was at 70 pitches after 3 innings, and he dominated the final 3 innings with only 32 pitches and got through 6, which didn’t look possible after 3. That was huge.

    Verlander only went 5 innings and only threw 54 strikes in 91 pitches. He didn’t give up a run. That’s how it goes when good pitchers can’t find a groove, but they keep the score down. It’s been that way for a long time, yet you are acting like a pitcher has to throw 7 innings with pinpoint control and dominance in order for it not to be a bad start. You came off ignorant about the game. Masterson beat a team many are predicting to be a top WS contender. He pitched 6 innings and only allowed 1 run, retiring the last 11 batters he faced. Only a baseball ignorant person would say “Overall, this was not a good start for Masterson.”

    • Cale says:

      I want to preface this by saying I hope you are right, but unfortunately, the numbers disagree with you.

      His FIP was 3.79 (4.00 is league average), so this was a “slightly above average” start…it was not “solid” by any means. Given the fact that he retired 11 batters in a row before being removed from the game, his FIP was 6.87 after the 3rd inning was over (translation, he should have given up 2 or 3 runs). His FIP was 3.28 in 2011, but 3.93 in 2010 and 4.16 last year, so he has shown no consisntency in out performing league average…so there is no reason to think he will conistently only let 1 of 7 baserunners score over a given 3 inning span. I pray that he can keep that up, but unfortunately, I think we all know he cannot even with his knack for getting double plays and the great defensive outfield we have.

      Verlanders FIP has been under 3.00 each of the past 4 years. He has a proven track record of pitching well when he may not have his best stuff.

  • The Doctor says:

    Watching Masterson is beyond painful. Sure, the end result was a “good game” in terms of 1 run over 6 innings (and I’m happy to take it), but anyone who says they weren’t certain that Masterson was going to explode at any number of points in that game is a liar. Face it, he got crazy lucky.

    I have absolutely zero confidence that Masterson can throw a strike when necessary. He reminds me of (gulp) Jake Westbrook – all it takes is that first runner on base in an inning and then all semblance of mechanics or aptitude totally disappear.

    • nikki says:

      If last night’s game gave you the heebie jeebies that badly, you might want to consider taking a few games off. You’re going to get an ulcer, my friend. :)

      • The Doctor says:

        Oh, don’t worry, I’ve been watching them long enough to have quite the ulcer already. It’s just frustrating as hell to watch someone struggle that much to throw the ball anywhere near the plate, and it really makes watching the game unpleasant (even when we win!) when so many innings are a 20+ pitch affair with multiple full counts. We’ve just got way too many guys that seem to have some aversion to getting the third out of an inning unless they allow a couple of baserunners on first

        I think Masteron and Chris Perez have been attending the same school of “strike out the first two guys quickly, then give up a double, a HBP, a walk, and THEN retire the last guy” pitching.

  • Alex says:

    I would say it was a quality start. This team is built partially on solid defense. Masterson relying on that is not a bad thing. It started rough, but he was lights out after the 3rd inning. He certainly needs to improve his command especially early in games, but finishing against a team with a lineup as highly regarded as the Blue Jays’ by only giving up one run is an accomplishment. I liked more than I didn’t like yesterday. Not extremely overjoyed with his performance, but I am certainly pleased and consider it a good start.

  • Alex says:

    Also, one of Masty’s main problems last year was that he couldn’t minimize damage. He did a great job of that. You could say that Cabby bailed him out, but Masterson was pitching for that double play the whole time. He took a risk with his pitches trying to get the double play, and Cabby and Kipnis connected for a great play.

  • Chip P says:

    Cabby? …let’s stick w/ Drubs.

    I felt like I was exhibiting some 2012 Masterson in those first few innings but after he settled down, I realized it is MUCH too early to start comparing 2013 players to their 2012 selves. Let’s just enjoy this victory.

    Overall, this WAS a good start for Masterson. Whether balls were hit directly to Tribe players or not, bottom line is that Masterson gave up 1 ER and the Tribe won. That is a good start.

  • medfest says:

    Masterson cannot walk hitters,lefties are always going to hit him,so he has to minimize the damage by limiting baserunners.
    The defense helped him out considerably, saving some extra bases, and in Cabrera’s case a potential big inning.
    Masterson is a horse though and he settled down his mechanics to finish strongly.
    I especially like the way he used his four seamer up in the zone to change the hitters eye level.

  • MileHighGilly says:

    Let’s play “Pre-Game VS. Post-Game!”

    Who would have, PRE-GAME, traded Masty straight up for Dickey? Just have them exchange jerseys and dugouts after ‘OH, CANADA!’

    And now, who would have POST-GAME traded them straight up for each other?

    Ultimately, a ‘W’ is a ‘W’ and the 2012 NL Cy Young threw up a “Yuk” last night compared to Masty.

    I would have traded them pre-game. Post-game… now I have hope! (And a sinking feeling that the NL to AL jump is going to be VERY difficult for Knucklewhat.

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