Move to Pen Imminent, But Not Necessarily Permanant for Masterson

By: T.J. Zuppe

One of the most constant conversations involving the Cleveland Indians this season has surrounded itself around pitcher Justin Masterson. From day one of spring training, to the end of August, the question has remained the same.

Is Masterson a starter or a reliever?

The ongoing debate on where Masterson is best suited continued on Thursday night, as the right-hander put a notch in the “starter” column, in the Tribe’s 3-2 win over the Oakland Athletics.

Indians Pitcher Justin Masterson

Masterson picked up the win, working six strong innings on the hill, giving up five hits, two runs, while striking out five, walking two, and hitting a couple of Athletics. Despite a couple of hiccups, it was one of Masterson’s best performances on the season, on his way to his fifth win on the campaign.

“It was a good victory today,” Masterson said. “A good victory for the Tribe, a much-needed victory (for us).”

“Seeing CP (Chris Perez) go out there, and the whole bullpen… shows the kind of caliber that we have coming out of that bullpen.”

With the win for Masterson, he picked up something that has been few and far between for him. However, he did not feel much different from any other outing, outside of a few variables.

“I was more consistent with my release point, Masterson said. “(I was) really just trying to go after them, the ball actually went where it was supposed to go most of the time. A few times I threw balls when I wanted to throw strikes, that’s going to happen.”

Indians manager Manny Acta applauded his command following the game.

“Masterson did a nice job for six innings, Acta said. “He threw 19 out of 26 first pitch strikes. If he can do that consistently he’s very tough to hit, because then he can throw that sinker off the plate, and play around a little bit more.”

With that however, the question mark of where Masterson best suited is still left to be a puzzle for the rest of the season, and on into next year. Once he hits the amount of innings the team is looking for, he will be shut down and sent to the pen for the remainder of the season, to keep from overworking him, and give others an opportunity to start games in September.

That inning mark is quickly approaching in the next start or two. From there, Acta said the team will use him out of the bullpen in any situation, as he is needed and Acta sees fit. However, that does not necessarily mean Masterson is there to stay.

“I don’t even know if I’m going to make it to Christmas, Acta joked. “We’re planning on sending him home as a starter, and we’ll make our decision in Goodyear, we’ll make our decision around March 30th.”

“He’s starting until we tell you he’s not.”

Basically, that is a good indication that the team still has yet to make a call either way regarding Masterson long-term. For good reason, in a best-case scenario the club would like to see Masterson remain in the rotation.

Indians Pitcher Justin Masterson

Masterson feels the same way.

“I’m not going to worry about it,” Masterson said. For me I’m trying to battle each start. I like starting, and I want to continue doing that the rest of the starts that I have.

“That’s my goal to work at. My mindset is to come in and get ready for each start, and try to get some good momentum as I go.”

On the year, Masterson has been very up and down, with a record of 5-12 and an ERA of 5.23. In 26 starts, he has worked a total of 161.1 innings, striking out 116 batters and working one complete game shutout. He feels that he has learned in his first year as a full-time starter in the big leagues though, and has laid down a solid enough track record to remain a starter.

“I’ve pitched quite a few innings,” Masterson said. “I’ve got some good starts under my belt, and some inconsistent ones.

“Overall I think the stuff has been pretty good. I kind of  like where we’re at. I’ve learned enough and understand enough, to take that into next year and really hunker down.”

So for now, the enigma of Masterson’s role with the Indians will remain unanswered, just like so many of the other question marks that surround this team heading into the final month of the season.

-@TJZuppe

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