Justin Masterson is an absolute mess. The Indians can tell us all they want that nothing is wrong with him physically, but something is clearly off. Mentally, we know he is in a bad place. His command is not just bad, its brutal. Even pitching coach Mickey Callaway, the genius who turned Ubaldo Jimenez from a DFA candidate to a $50 million man, has no answers.
“You’re always frustrated when you don’t do well,” said Masterson after his team’s 5-3 loss. “When you’re not doing a good job at your job it’s always a tough thing. But a bigger disappointment is that the 24 other guys are coming out to fight for me. Even though I’m putting out as much effort as I can, I feel like I’m letting down the guys.”
The New York Yankees rolled into town at 44-43, in search of additions to their rotation. They started rookie Shane Greene, who is nothing but 4A filler. This was something of an audition for the struggling Masterson. If ever the big right-hander needed to show up, it was Monday night. The Yankees would love a consistent veteran to slot behind Masahiro Tanaka and Hiroki Kuroda in their rotation the rest of the way, with former Indian CC Sabathia out for the season. No doubt the Bronx Bombers had their scouts watching.
The Tribe’s opening day starter has had two main issues in 2014; command and left-handed batters. Both reared their ugly heads almost instantly. The first time through the order in less than two innings, left-handed Yankee bats went four for six with a walk. Then Brett Gardner, in his second AB laced an RBI single that kept the bases loaded. Masterson looked completely lost when he walked Derek Jeter to score the Yankees third run. If not for Carlos Santana making a diving stop to save Jacoby Ellsbury’s double to start a 3-2 inning ending double play.
It was clear that Justin had nothing. Everyone in the park knew it. Yet with Kyle Crockett ready, Terry Francona sent Masterson back out for the third, which of course was a mistake. He walked Mark Teixeira on four pitches (lefty) and then was chased by Brian McCann’s single (lefty).
Both runners scored thanks to more bad Tribe defense. With one out and runners on the corners, Ichiro tapped one to the right side with Santana had to charge and field. He easily could have and should have thrown home to nail the slow footed Teixeira at the plate, but decided to flip to Crockett at first. Ichiro’s speed easily beat Crockett to the bag and everyone was safe. The Tribe rookie lefty then balked McCann and Ichiro into scoring position before plunking Kelly Johnson to load the bases. He looked like he would dance out of trouble when Francisco Cervelli sent a tailor made DP ball to Asdrubal Cabrera at short, but Jason Kipnis’s relay throw was way high and pulled Santana off the bag, allowing the fifth New York run to score.
The game was way out of hand at this point thanks to Masterson once again putting his team in a huge hole. The book was closed on him – two innings, 54 pitches, only 24 strikes, five runs on six hits and three walks. It was just another in a long line of bad starts for a guy who has gone from staff ace to someone who should be taken out of the rotation. The Indians cannot continue to trot him out there every five days, not knowing if he can even make it past a couple of innings.
The numbers tell the story. In four of his last five starts, Masterson has failed to even go more than four innings. Go back to his last 11 starts and the results are scary bad.
Justin Masterson’s last 11 starts: 49 IP, 60 H, 39 ER, 36 BB, 45 K, 6 HBP — 7.16 ERA
Lefties continue to kill Masterson. More than a half season has gone by and they are hitting .332 (70-211) with an OPS over .900. Earlier in the season, Zach McAllister struggled mightily for a month and it was clear he needed some sort of break. Magically he came up with a sore back and was placed on the DL. I have to believe that something similar is coming with Masterson. If not, the Indians need to strongly considering skipping his next start over the weekend and giving him essentially two weeks off with the All-Star break coming next week.
“I don’t think we want to make decisions literally five minutes after the game,” Francona said. “We’ll sit and talk to Masty. I think that’s the first thing to do. … That’s really all I have.”
Health-wise, Justin says he is OK. Mentally, I am not so sure.
“I think I feel good,” said Masterson, who had been struggling with a knee issue. “Who knows? It’s a tick. You’re so close and yet you’re so far away. I felt tonight was going to be such a great one. I had a great bullpen session. Something so tiny can make such a big difference when you’re going 60 feet six inches.”
The saddest part of all of this is the fact that Masterson is costing himself MILLIONS of dollars with his performance in his contract year. Imagine if he would have signed the extension with the Indians. Seems like the front office has dodged a big bullet there.
Meanwhile, the offense had little for the rookie Greene. They scratched two across on a solo homer from Nick Swisher and an RBI single from Asdrubal Cabrera which brought in the newest member of the Tribe, Chris Dickerson. This could have been a game of not for the gigantic hole Masterson put them in. Seven scoreless innings of pen work from Kyle Crockett (one), Carlos Carrasco (three), Marc Rzepcyznski (one), Vinnie Pestano (one), and John Axford (one) kept the Wahoos in it, but the bats just couldn’t come up with enough.
Getting set down 1-2-3 in the seventh by old friend David Huff was salt in the wound. Yan Gomes did get Huff for a solo homer to start the eighth before giving way to All-Star Delin Betances who got the final six outs for his first Major League save.
This was a winnable game in many ways, especially considering the pitching matchup, but Masterson’s no show was a killer. Now they have to face New York’s ace Tanaka, who is 12-3 with a 2.27 ERA and a WHIP of 0.97. Francona will counter with Trevor Bauer (2-4, 4.42 ERA).