Masterson and Bullpen Shut Down Bucos; Indians 2, Pirates 0
By Robert Toth
Justin Masterson and the Cleveland Indians bullpen combined on a five-hit shutout in a battle of second-place teams, as the Tribe took the series opener from the Pittsburgh Pirates, 2-0.
Justin Masterson was masterful on the rubber, but again was the recipient of no run support. The Indians have provided Masterson with an average of 3.10 runs of support per nine innings pitched, worst in the American League this season. Counting tonight’s outing, he has received two runs or less of offense in eight straight starts and 11 of his 14 starts this season.
Unlike his previous starts, Masterson did not let the poor run support affect him on the mound, as he dominated the Pirates with seven innings of shutout baseball. He struck out nine, including a string of five straight Pirates, starting with the final out of the second inning. He allowed just one extra-base hit in four total hits, walked three, and hit one batter.
Pirates starter James McDonald (5-3) kept Pittsburgh in the game with an equally solid pitching performance. Entering the game with the third-best WHIP in the NL, McDonald kept the Indians off the base paths, giving up just a pair of walks and three hits over six innings of work.
McDonald, who dodged a Tribe two-out scoring threat in the second inning after back-to-back two-out singles by Casey Kotchman and Lonnie Chisenhall, could not keep the Indians off the board in the third. After striking out Shin-Soo Choo to lead off the inning, Asdrubal Cabrera drew a five-pitch walk. Jason Kipnis flied out to left for the second out. Carlos Santana then worked the count full, which was key, enabling the base runner Cabrera to be in motion on the payoff pitch. Santana sat back on a breaking ball and slashed it down the third base line, driving in the first run of the game all the way from first base. It was Santana’s 29th RBI of the season.
“It was a big RBI with two strikes,” Indians manager Manny Acta said, “pretty much an emergency swing.”
Masterson found himself in a jam in the top of the fourth inning. After striking out Neil Walker, he walked the dangerous Andrew McCutchen. Garrett Jones struck out on three straight pitches, but then Casey McGehee singled McCutchen to third on a broken bat flair to right. Pedro Alvarez would work a full count walk to load the bases, as Masterson’s pitch count was quickly adding up in the inning. After the brief wild spell, Masterson came back to strike out Jose Tabata on three straight pitches to work out of the jam.
“The story was Masterson,” Acta said. “He was ahead in the count the whole night. He had the best slider of the year so far. Whenever they were looking for that sinker, he was able to reach back and throw that four seamer 94, 95.”
“[We] don’t jump the gun with one start, but when it comes to three in a row, that is a pretty big indication,” Acta said. “Three starts in a row in which he has gone deep in the game is a pretty good indication he will be okay.”
The Indians would add an insurance run in the eighth inning after a quick and efficient 1-2-3 top half of the inning by Vinnie Pestano. Pittsburgh’s third pitcher of the night, reliever Jason Grilli, walked a pair of batters around strikeouts of Cabrera and Kipnis, before bringing Michael Brantley to the plate with a chance to extend his hitting streak to a career-high 22 games. Brantley would do exactly that with an RBI liner to center, scoring Choo from second base and giving the Indians the always-important insurance run. The hitting streak by the Tribe’s center fielder is the longest in the Major Leagues this season.
Chris Perez gave up a leadoff single to McGehee in the ninth, but retired Alvarez on a flyout to left and induced Tabata into a 4-6-3 double play to end the night. For Perez, it was his 21st consecutive save, to lead the Major Leagues.
“You always want to defend your home territory,” Indians center fielder Michael Brantley said. “We like to see all the Tribe fans out here tonight.” Brantley thanked the fans for their attendance and their energy.
Friday night’s win improved the Indians record on the season to 33-30 and ended their three-game losing streak. After starting their nine-game road trip with series wins against the Tigers and Cardinals, the Indians were swept out of Cincinnati. The win moves the Indians record in interleague play to 4-6 on the season.
The loss for the Pirates (32-31) pushed their losing streak to four games. Following the Reds’ win Friday, the Pirates dropped to four games out of first place in the National League Central Division.
The Indians and Pirates will resume their series Saturday. Ubaldo Jimenez (6-4, 4.91 ERA) will make his 13th start of the season. He sports a career 3-1 record against the Pirates with a 2.31 ERA in six games. He looks to build upon back-to-back quality starts during which time he has allowed just two earned runs, walked one man, and struck out 11. Countering for Pittsburgh will be veteran pitcher A. J. Burnett (6-2, 3.61 ERA). Burnett was acquired before the season from the New York Yankees.
Game time from Cleveland is slated for 4:05 pm ET Saturday on SportsTimeOhio and the Cleveland Indians radio network.
Photo: Getty Images