Boston Red Sox: Justin Masterson

Masterson a Francona favorite no more

May, 23, 2011
CLEVELAND -- Imagine Terry Francona's outlook on facing Justin Masterson if he didn't like the guy.

"It's hard not to love him, we all do. But I hope we beat his brains out," Francona said before the former Red Sox right-hander started the opener of a three-game series for the Cleveland Indians against Boston on Tuesday night.

"He's everybody's favorite," Francona added, noting that he has seen a change in Masterson since the big fella became a big part of Cleveland's rotation.

"He's pitching very aggressively, especially against left-handers, and he's always needed to do that. Because he's such an easy-going guy, people don't realize how much he competes -- and he's a competitor."

Masterson anticipates the challenge of facing seven lefties (including switch-hitters) in Boston's lineup. He threw his only career shutout against the Red Sox last June 9, a two-hitter, and is 2-0 with an 0.64 ERA in two starts against them.

"I have a lot of friends over there," Masterson said Sunday. "It will be fun."

Mastering a changeup to go with his fastball and put-away slider has helped Masterson go 5-2 with a 2.52 ERA in nine starts this year for the Indians, who entered play Tuesday with baseball's best record at 29-15, including 18-4 at home.

A three-game sweep of the Red Sox in the season's first week went a long way toward propelling the young Indians. It also put the Sox into an 0-6 hole that they have been clawing their way out of for five weeks.

"When we left here, nothing was going right," Francona said. "Now, it looks like we are winning the close games. Things have settled down nicely."

Boston has won 11 of 14 to improve to 25-21, just a half-game off the AL East lead.

Adrian Gonzalez's hot hitting has led the way. The first baseman went 4-for-4 Sunday night -- his second four-hit game in a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs at Fenway Park. His 65 hits and 41 RBIs lead the majors.

"When you see a really good hitter like Gonzo in the midst of a streak, it is fun to watch," said Francona, who doesn't expect a sudden cold front to hit. "I know he's hot, but it is more than that. He's not going to go away."

On the mend: Bobby Jenks, out since May 2 with a right biceps strain, threw a 25-pitch bullpen session.

"I felt fine," the right-handed setup man said. "Everything was good. We're right on schedule."

Francona said Jenks will throw again before Wednesday's noon matinee and that right-hander John Lackey will test his strained right elbow on Tuesday.

Marco Scutaro, out since May 8 with a strained left oblique, did some light infield work, but Francona said the shortstop is not quite ready to resume hitting. "We don't want to turn him loose until he doesn't feel it -- and he still does," Francona said. "He's not cleared to hit yet. Hopefully by the end of the week."

Francona says some people have a tendency to be a bit too critical of Jed Lowrie's defense as he fills in at short.

""He's been pretty good, very reliable," Francona said. "His foot speed probably is not the best, but he positions himself really well. At the plate, he gives you a professional at-bat every time."

Notes: Red Sox not taking advantage

August, 5, 2010
BOSTON -- In order to be considered a contender for a playoff spot, it’s customary for a team to win the games it should win, against mediocre teams.

The Red Sox, though, haven’t been able to take enough advantage of the dregs of the American League, which is one of the reasons they are eating the dust of AL East rival New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays in the chase for a postseason berth.

The four worst teams in the AL, according to their winning percentages before Wednesday night’s action, are Baltimore (.311), Seattle (.374), Cleveland (.421) and Kansas City (.430).

The Red Sox are only a combined 15-14 against those teams. Wednesday night’s loss to the Indians dropped Boston to 3-4 against Cleveland, with a game Thursday night remaining on the schedule. Boston has gone 4-3 against the Royals, is 2-2 against the Mariners and owns only a 6-5 edge over the Orioles.

Masterful again

Justin Masterson, who was part of the Red Sox non-waiver trade deadline deal with for Victor Martinez on July 31, 2009, returned to Fenway Park and haunted his former teammates.

Masterson (4-10) limited Boston to one run -- a David Ortiz homer in the sixth -- in five-plus innings. It was the right-hander’s second win of the season against the Red Sox. He authored a two-hit shutout in Cleveland on June 9, his first big league complete game. He tacked on five more scoreless innings before Ortiz took him deep.

While Masterson is 2-0 against Boston, he is 2-10 against the rest of the league.

Defense gets a D

Pitching and defense were supposed to be the hallmark of this year’s Red Sox team. While the pitching has been inconsistent, the defense has been weak at times too. Wednesday night, the Sox committed three errors, leading to seven unearned runs. Boston now has permitted 44 unearned runs on the season. In the AL, only Cleveland (48) has given up more, while the Mariners have given up 44 as well.

More stuff

Jon Lester is the first Red Sox pitcher since Tim Wakefield five years ago to lose as many as four starts in a row, a career high for Lester. Wakefield lost five consecutive starts from May 15, 2005 to June 6, 2005. … The Red Sox have scored a total of three runs while Lester has been on the mound in his four losses. … Lester, who had four strikeouts, failed to fan as many as six in a game for the first time in his past 10 starts. … Ortiz’s homer stretched his hitting streak to 13 games. … The homer was Ortiz’s 134th at Fenway, tying him with Rico Petrocelli for eighth on the team’s all-time list. … The Sox went 0-for-9 with runners in scoring position.

Ex-Sox Masterson struggles

June, 9, 2010
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.’’