Masterson Needs To Bring Ace Effort For Tribe Success

Each week through Spring Training the DTTWLN staff will profile and break down the players in camp for the Indians at Goodyear, Arizona and examine their potential roles for the season to come. This week, we continue our Goodyear coverage by breaking down the players who need to have a break out season if the Tribe is to make the playoffs.

By Mike Brandyberry

When examining the Tribe and thinking of players who need to have break out seasons for the Tribe to advance to the playoffs, you might think Justin Masterson broke out last year, however, a year ago the side-winding, right hander was a middle of the rotation pitcher. This year, he is the Tribe’s ace and Opening Day starter.

Since being acquired by the Indians, along with Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price, in July 2009 for Victor Martinez, Masterson has moved out of the Red Sox bullpen and into the Tribe rotation. In Boston, Masterson was a tough right handed set up man for closer Jonathan Papelbon. After finishing 2009 in the Tribe rotation, Masterson was slated to be a full time member in 2010. In 2010 he struggled, going 6-13, with a 4. 70 ERA and many speculated he was better off in the bullpen.

However, the Indians stuck to their convictions and kept Masterson in the rotation for 2011 and it seems he has found his niche. A year ago, he was 12-10, with a 3.21 ERA in 216 innings and 158 strikeouts. Had the team provided him run support in June his numbers would have been even better, but the Tribe provided only nine runs in six starts for the month. It’s tough to go 0-6 in a month and assert yourself as an ace of the staff, but that’s just what he did. As the Tribe competed in the Central Division in the second half of last season, Masterson was always perceived the ace.

Quickly in Spring Training manager Manny Acta named Masterson the Opening Day starter, rewarding him for that strong 2011 season, but with rewards comes responsibility. The slinging fastball pitcher is now the ace of the staff not just by perception, but by definition. No longer is 12-10 acceptable, regardless of run support. If the Indians are to win the Central Division and make the playoffs, he’ll have to win 17-20 games and be able to battle the other ace pitchers of the American League.

While Masterson needs to continue to break out and assert himself as a true front of the line starter, he will need to team with another starter—hopefully Ubaldo Jimenez—to make a potent 1-2 punch like most playoff teams possess. Masterson has had a solid Spring Training after a couple rocky starts early. He has worked on developing his change-up through the offseason and spring. A year ago he was predominantly a two-pitch pitcher, relying on his fastball that has great movement and a slider.

When Masterson takes the mound on April 5 at Progressive Field against the Toronto Blue Jays last season, and his accomplishments are in the past, and his personal and team expectations will both be much higher than a year ago. His personal success will have as much impact on the team success as any one individual.

Photo: Associated Press


Be sure to vote for Did The Tribe Win Last Night in Cleveland Magazine’s Blog Bracket Challenge this week. Voting is open until 5 pm on Friday.

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