Covering the Bases: Game 68
Indians 8, Reds 1
FIRST: Not one. Not two. Not three…
Four strong starts in a row now for Justin “Big Nasty” Masterson. The preacher’s son is rollin’ and the Indians are thanking the good Lord. On Wednesday night, Masterson was masterful — pun entirely intended — in a complete-game masterpiece (again, couldn’t help myself) against the Reds.
“We feel right now,” Indians manager Manny Acta said, “the way he’s throwing the ball over his last four outings, we have the guy that we had last year who, every five days, regardless of who’s pitching for the other side, we have a very good chance to be in the game.”
Over nine innings against the Reds, Masterson scattered three hits and allowed one unearned run (Jay Bruce reached on an error in the eighth and later scored on a groundout). The righty struck out nine and walked none. He threw 110 pitches with 76 registering for strikes.
“He was mixing his speeds up anywhere from 95 to 87,” Cincinnati’s Todd Frazier said. “He was trying to get your timing off a little bit. That’s what he did. He’s a good pitcher. Usually you can hit those fastballs and get on him early, but his ball was moving a lot and it makes it tough.
“You don’t know where it’s going. They could set up outside. Outside to him might hit outside, but it’s going to end up at your knees low and in.”
In his last start, Masterson’s slider was the key aspect of his outing against the Pirates. On Wednesday, his signature sinker stole the show. Overall, Masterson threw 66 sinkers and 25 four-seamers. He mixed in 19 sliders, but did not need to introduce that pitch until the fourth inning.
Over his past four starts, Masterson has given up just four earned runs over 29 innings (1.24 ERA) with 27 strikeouts against six walks. Over his last three outings — all against National League teams — the sinkerballer has given up one earned run in 23 innings (0.39 ERA) with 24 strikeouts and three walks.
SECOND: Johnny Damon is beginning to come around at the plate. You might look at his .203 batting average and scoff a bit, but there is no denying the veteran’s improvement over the past couple of weeks.
On Wednesday, Damon went 2-for-2 with a two-run homer, two walks and two runs scored. That upped the left fielder’s showing over his last 16 games to 13-for-44, or a .295 batting average. Damon is what he is on defense, but if his bat is coming around, that changes the look of the lower part of the Tribe’s lineup.
“It’s encouraging to see it,” Acta said of Damon’s recent strides at the plate. “Hey, he got off to a very slow start and I know a lot of people are just going to keep looking at the batting average at stuff, but I can point out right now at least five games over the last 10 days where Johnny has had something to do with us winning the ballgame.
“Starting in Detroit, where he hit a [two-run single] with the bases loaded [on June 6] against Max Scherzer. Over there in St. Louis, he hit that two-run homer [on Jue 8] to give us that cushion against [Maikel] Cleto. The night [June 10] that [Jason] Kipnis hit that three-run homer, everybody just remembers that three-run homer, but no one remembers who started the rally. It was Johnny with a single against [Jason] Motte.
“[On Monday] here, he hit a double with a man on first base that gave us the opportunity to score those two runs [in the sixth inning] to win the ballgame. And then today. His hits, they have been huge for us. I hope he continues to do it. He’s doing it at the right time right now.”
THIRD: Shin-Soo Choo’s ownership of Reds righty Bronson Arroyo has been well-documented. Choo’s dominance of the pitcher continued on Wednesday, too. Choo doubled in each of the first and third innings and was then walked in the fourth, setting up a three-run homer for Asdrubal Cabrera.
Over the course of his career, Choo has hit .571 (8-for-14) with three doubles, four homers and seven RBIs against Arroyo. Taking things a step further, Choo has hit .545 (12-for-22) with three doubles, six homers and nine RBIs in his career against Arroyo if you combine Spring Training with the regular season.
Here’s what Arroyo had to say about walking Choo in the fourth:
“I didn’t walk him on purpose,” said the pitcher, “but I was just trying to make really, really good pitches When you’re trying to be that fine with a guy, it limits your ability to throw strikes. I wasn’t worried if I did walk him. Obviously, I had thrown him two great pitches earlier in the game and he got hits on both of them. He’s had my number for a while now.”
HOME: With a 3-3 split of this six-game intrastate series, the legendary Ohio Cup stays in Cuyahoga County for another year. That’s because the Indians took the series 5-1 in 2011. Alas, there was no postgame balloting for the 2012 M.O.P. (Most Outstanding Player). Did that stop me from crunching the numbers and casting my own vote? Hardly.
The 2012 co-M.O.P. Award winners:
Cleveland’s Shin-Soo Choo (11-for-27, 3 homers, 5 doubles, 4 RBIs)
Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips (12-for-26, 2 homers, 1 double, 8 RBIs)
Close, but no cigar…
Cleveland’s Asdrubal Cabrera (7-for-24, 2 homers, two doubles, 5 RBIs)
Cincinnati’s Joey Votto (10-for-23, 3 homers, 3 doubles, 7 RBIs)
Indians (36-32) at Astros (28-41)
at 8:05 p.m. ET Friday at Minute Maid Park
NOTE: I will not be making the trip to Houston for the upcoming series against the Astros. I will, however, be meeting up with the club for the subsequent series in New York and Baltimore. For Indians coverage in my absence, keep checking Indians.com and following @Indians and @tribeinsider on Twitter.