Ex-Sox Masterson struggles

CLEVELAND -- The warm, wide smile is the same, someone mentioned to Justin Masterson in the Cleveland Indians’ clubhouse the other day.

“That’s all I've got,’’ he said, flashing the whites.

Masterson, who is starting for the Indians Wednesday night against the Red Sox, was traded to Cleveland last July along with minor-league pitchers Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price, two No. 1 sandwich picks, for catcher Victor Martinez. So far, the deal is a lopsided one in favor of the Sox.

Hagadone, a power left-hander who had reconstructive elbow surgery while with the Sox, was recently promoted to Double-A Akron and has 57 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings, though he was battling control issues in Class A Kinston. Price also is in Akron, pitching out of the bullpen.

Masterson, meanwhile, was immediately thrust into the Indians’ rotation after serving as a swingman for the Sox, and the results have not been pretty. Last season the 25-year-old sidearmer was 1-7 in 10 starts with a 4.80 ERA.

His only win for the Indians last season came on Aug. 25, and when he went winless in his first 10 starts this season, that stretched his string of starts without a win to 17, the longest such streak in club history. He also lost 11 straight decisions, a streak that finally ended when he beat the White Sox 10-1 in his last start on June 4, a game in which he went 5 2/3 innings and allowed five hits, though he walked a season-high six.

“I’ve had three terrible outings,’’ Masterson said. “The rest have either been a couple of errors turn two earned runs into five runs scored. We have a good team, but we find ways to lose.

“My last start I felt really good. Things are definitely breaking in the right direction. Things continue to help build me as far as who I am. It lets me know there’s a little more than just baseball and just because you have skill that doesn’t mean it always works out for you.’’

The cause of Masterson’s problems is readily detected, and is one reason manager Terry Francona stacked the Sox lineup with five left-handed hitters Wednesday night.

Masterson can dominate right-handed hitters with a sinker that ties them up inside complemented by a slider that he throws away, with his delivery making it that much harder for right-handers to pick up his pitches. When he’s not getting ground-ball outs, he’s averaging an impressive 10.98 Ks per nine innings against righties, while walking batters at a 3.26-per-9 rate and holding righties to a .246 average.

Left-handed hitters have no such trouble picking up Masterson’s pitches, and so far he has not developed an off-speed pitch with which he can get lefties out. They’re batting .370 against him, striking out far less (5.59) and walking a lot more (6.83).

His future may well be in the bullpen, but the Indians, having lost CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee in back-to-back seasons, don’t have the luxury of putting him there for now.

His presence is missed in the Sox's bullpen, not the least for his part in orchestrating the bullpen’s percussion band. “Manny’s going to have to pick it up,’’ said Masterson, who says he stays in touch with Manny Delcarmen and Daniel Bard.

“How can you be a nicer kid than him?’’ Francona said. “He’s as solid a kid as you’re ever going to find. That will never change.’’

That said, Francona added: “I hope we beat his brains out.’’