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Masterson Looking to Repeat Old Form in New Season

| On 02, Apr 2013

Repetition. In order to succeed as a starting pitcher, you have to repeat the same delivery, with the same motion, time and time again. In the case of Justin Masterson, repetition has not always been so easy.

Masterson takes the mound this evening for the Indians in his second straight Opening Day start, looking to rebound from an inconsistent season in 2012. The 6’6,” 250 lb., side-winding, right-hander could never find consistent mechanics in 2012, making that repetition all the more difficult to keep throughout even a start.

“It was totally frustrating,” Masterson said. “Whether it be tough luck, my own lack of concentration, it was frustrating. You go, ‘man I just pitched six innings and I had one bad inning and it looks terrible.’ That was the microcosm of the season itself. I had 28 good starts and six or seven bad starts and they really made a big difference. Even within those bad starts were just one bad inning, so it was like seven or eight bad innings all year.

For Masterson, those bad innings resulted in an 11-15 record, with a 4.93 ERA in 34 starts. His 2012 numbers are a far cry from his 2011 performance of 12-10, with a 3.21 ERA. Masterson lost six games in June 2011 because the offense only supplied a total of six runs in his starts for the month. With run support, his record could have been better. In 2012, however, an offseason shoulder surgery to his non-throwing arm seemed to affect with his mechanics and he never seemed to get comfortable. Now, he feels comfortable and healthy again, like he did in 2011.

“We were able to have a strong offseason and work hard this spring and I feel really good,” Masterson said. “I was able to take some things that took place last year and apply those to the work we’ve done in the spring and hopefully implement those things to be that much more consistent.”

Indians Manager Terry Francona agrees that consistency and repetition is the key to Masterson’s success. Finding the rhythm he had in 2011 will be a key to Masterson, and the Indians’ season.

“He had some games that got away from him that drove his ERA up,” Francona said. “Consistency in our game is one of the biggest and toughest words to do.”

Finding consistency and repetition for Masterson isn’t as easy as it sounds. The large right-hander throws from a side arm delivery, creating a lot of movement on his pitch. When he is consistently repeating his delivery, the ball sinks while heading to the plate and creates many swings and misses. When he gets out of rhythm, the ball can move side to side, instead of downward, and still find the barrel of hitter’s bats. It can happen quickly, within the inning of a game.

“It happen at times on certain pitches, especially to left-handed hitters,” Masterson said. “When the ball goes down they’re hitting a ground ball. When the ball tails away, it goes to the end of their barrel. It didn’t always result in a home run, but sometimes a double to the gap. That’s where you make some adjustments and you don’t overthrow a pitch because sometimes it just floats over instead of dropping.”

Masterson’s 2012 struggles were a theme throughout the starting rotation. Ubaldo Jimenez lead the American League in losses, while Derek Lowe was eventually released and Josh Tomlin was shut down and forced to have Tommy John surgery. Last season’s fifth starter, Jeanmar Gomez, was released during this offseason. Last season’s starting rotation was one that would like to be forgotten by everyone, including Masterson.

“For me last year, it was still those seven games,” Masterson said. “But when you’re looking at your stats you think, ‘man, I stink,’ then when you realize I still had some of the better numbers, you think, ‘oh boy.’”

Despite his subpar 2012 season, earning the Opening Day start was something Masterson worked all winter to earn from his manager. Not just does he want to earn the start, but retake his position as the leader of the pitching staff, the team’s biggest weakness entering the 2013 season.

“It’s one of those where I want to get back and do a lot of work and I wanted it,” Masterson said. “Especially with all the changes that were made here, it should be real special this year.”

For Francona, he’s looking for a leader and since he has known Masterson dating back to when the Boston Red Sox drafted him in the second round of the 2006 First Year Player Draft, he becomes the most trustworthy starter to open the season tonight in Toronto.

“I’m kind of betting on the person,” Francona said when he named Masterson the Opening Day starter. “I’ve been around him probably longer than anybody. He’s at a point in his career where he understands the responsibility and he actually wants it. I think he’d be a good leader.”

“Saying that, he doesn’t have to go out and be a different pitcher because he’s throwing Opening Day. I just think he sets a good example for the rest of the staff.”

Masterson will take the ball tonight in the Rogers Centre in Toronto to start a season that has 15 new players on the Opening Day roster from a year ago for the Indians. While it is just one game, the Indians and Masterson are hoping to start the season right. The team begins the season with 13 straight games against Toronto, Tampa Bay, the New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox before an off day. Masterson, who should start three of those 13 games, feels the sample size is a good first step to evaluate the team and pitching staff.

“We’re really excited,” Masterson said. “We have a 13 game stretch to open the season, so I think it will be a great thing to use to see where we’re at. We hope we win, but that will be a good first stretch. Hopefully we’re 10-3 or 9-4.”

As the Indians prepare to start their season, the starting rotation will be a key to the Tribe’s success all year. While revamped with newcomers Brett Myers and Scott Kazmir, the rotation will have to be consistent for the Indians to be a threat in the American League Central Division. For Masterson, finding that repetition and minimizing the big inning is his key to a consistent season.

“It’s just minimizing those seven or eight games,” Masterson said. “We were able to do that in 2011. The big inning was two or three runs, instead of five or six runs. It all comes back to being able to throw strikes and control the strike zone. My walk total went up last year. If we can keep that down, that’s a good sign that things are going to be well.”

Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer

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