Justin Masterful

Justin Masterson is a beauty. The Jamaican-born, pastor’s kid is a gentle giant with a playful and laidback personality. It’s really a thing to behold at times.

I mean, who else but Masterson would immediately take to calling Roberto Hernandez — formerly Fausto Carmona — by the name “Rob,” and make it sound like he’s been calling him that for years? Or, there was the moment Friday when asked about the left shoulder injury that popped up last season, and he offered this technical explanation: “My shoulder juices were leaking out.”

When Masterson walked into the media work room on Friday morning, he grabbed WTAM reporter Nick Camino’s notepad and pen and began scribbling. “How can you expect people not to play with your stuff if you leave it laying around?” Masterson joked.

This is your Opening Day starter, folks. And, really, it’s the best choice.

Manager Manny Acta announced his pick on Friday and he’ll get no arguments from me. Masterson developed into the staff horse last season and overpowered teams at times with his sinker. With his funky delivery, and you-know-what’s-coming-but-I-bet-you-can’t-hit-it approach worked wonders in 2011 in cementing his place as one of the game’s emerging talents.

Maybe I’m just partial to having a P.K. leading the rotation. I’m one myself.

(If you don’t know what a P.K. is, consult paragraph one.)

The other choice was Ubaldo Jimenez and I wouldn’t have been opposed to him getting the Opening Day nod, either. He’s been an Opening Day man three years running and was a Cy Young contender two years ago. The Tribe did also send four players — including two prized prospects — in order to acquire him last summer.

They think Ubaldo can be an ace. Making him the No. 1 arm would’ve been another statement along those lines. The fact of the matter is, however, that Jimenez was shaky all last year and this is the season he is expected to regain his footing as a top-of-the-rotation arm. Until then, as Acta said, the hope is he’ll pitch like a No. 1 while working as a No. 2.

Masterson earned this job, though. On the field and in the clubhouse, he turned himself into a team leader last year. On the mound, specifically, Masterson logged 216 innings and went 12-10 with a 3.21 ERA. He might’ve easily notched at least 15 wins had it not been for a prolonged run of abysmal run support.

Asked if the lack of runs offered an excercise in mental toughness last season, Masterson smirked and saw his chance to crack wise with the media.

“Sometimes more of the mental toughness excercise was talking to the media afterwards,” he said with a grin. “‘Hey, you didn’t get a win. You stink now, huh?’ I thought I pitched pretty good.”

He did indeed pitch pretty good. In fact, he’s ben pitching pretty good since the later stages of the 2010 season. Including his last nine outings from that year, Masterson has gone 14-11 with a 3.05 ERA in 250 2/3 innings, covering 43 games (37 starts). Last year, he went with his strengh the most, leading the Majors with a fastball percentage of 84.4.

Masterson created 364 grounders last season — third-most in the American League. His groundball-to-flyball ratio was the second best mark in the league and his 4.1 WAR ranked 13th among AL pitchers. Acta quipped that Masterson’s two-seamer “moves like a whiffle ball.”

He’ll get to test it out on Opening Day now.

Indians fans probably don’t need to be reminded of Opening Day last season. Hernandez took the mound as Carmona and gave up 10 earned runs in three innings in a 15-10 loss to the White Sox. That was tied for the most runs allowed in an opener since 1919 and it marked the most since 1949.

“I hope I can do a little better than how Rob did,” Masterson said with a laugh.

Some notes from Friday…

  • Indians closer Chris Perez said the last real hurdle in his recovery from a left oblique injury is feeling fine when he sneezes. “You don’t realize how much you sneeze until you have this thing,” he said. No word on whether the medical staff is holding pepper under his nose in an effort to gauge his progress.
  • Jokes aside, Perez said he hopes to resume throwing some time next week and head trainer Lonnie Soloff added that the closer’s wish may come true. Don’t ask what day. It’s still very fluid and based on CP’s daily progress at this point. He’s been able to add a new excercise each day and said he’s passed every test the staff has given him.
  • As for a goal for this season, Perez said he’d like to get back to his 2010 approach. When he’d get ahead in a count that year, he’d try to strike a hitter out, even if it meant burning a pitch or two. Last year, Perez focused more on creating contact in an effort to get quick outs any way he could. Not surprisingly, his H/9 spiked to 6.9 from 5.7 the year before and his K/9 dropped to 5.9 from 8.7. His walk rate was nearly identical.
  • Ubaldo had no issues with Masterson being named the Opening Day starter and said he appreciated Acta coming to him to discuss the situation. Jimenez lauded Masterson’s efforts last season and said the honor was well deserved. Barring any setbacks, this mans Ubaldo’s run of three straight Opening Day starts is going to end.
  • Acta said Ubaldo will indeed slide into the No. 2 spot on the starting staff. As for the Nos. 3-5 slots, those will be sorted out in the final 10 days or so of camp. Josh Tomlin and Derek Lower will occupy two of the spots and the fifth job will go to one of Kevin Slowey, Jeanmar Gomez, David Huff or Zach McAllister.
  • Caught up some with righty Carlos Carrasco, who is in camp working through his lengthy rehab from Tommy John elbow surgery. He has built up to throwing from 60 feet and hopes to advance to 75 on Monday. By the end of the month, he could be throwing from 90 feet. Carrasco said he hopes to be back in game action late this season, but there is a chance he will not be back until 2013.
  • Matt LaPorta said his offseason sessions with hitting coach Bruce Fields were aimed at helping the first baseman avoid chasing pitches out of the strike zone. LaPorta also noted that he has made a slight mechanical adjustment. He’s standing a bit taller in his stance right now.
  • Newly signed first baseman Casey Kotchman has had a good chance to get to watch and know his teammates in the workouts portion of Spring Training. So far, Kotchman says he sees an “exciting and hard-working group,” adding that he was eager to get games started to continue meshing as a team.
  • Outfielder Aaron Cunningham took part in batting practice during Friday’s workout. That’s two days in a row for Cunningham, who sat out Wednesday and Thursday intrasquad games in order to rest a sore left hand. Acta sounded optimistic about Cunningham’s chances of being available on Saturday.
  • Friday’s workout was quick and to the point with the team holding its annual charity golf outing in the afternoon. It was really windy and chilly — at one point, heavy winds blew over a screen by first base — during the abbreviated workout. Might’ve made for some interesting showings out on the golf course.
  • Saturday’s opener against the Reds is scheduled for 3:05 p.m. ET. Cleveland will be the visiting team in the first of three games in a row vs. Cincinnati. On the board to tentatively pitch for the Indians were David Huff, Jeremy Accardo, Nick Hagadone, Frank Herrmann, CC Lee, Vinnie Pestano, Danny Salazar, Chris Seddon, Tyler Sturdevant and Robinson Tejeda.

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Photo of the Day

Left behind.

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Make sure you’re reading Indians.com and following me on Twitter (@MLBastian). To see more of my Spring Training photos, CLICK HERE.

Stay tuned for more…

–JB

2 Comments

Great stuff Jordan, really excited that ST has started, and just counting the days until Opening Day. Keep the good stuff coming.

It’s nice to have two aces :D

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