Covering the Bases: Game 98

721MastyFinal: Indians 7, Twins 1

FIRST: Justin Masterson worked to a 1-2 against Minnesota’s Joe Mauer in the first inning on Sunday afternoon. The Indians starter then issued a statement by blowing a 97-mph four-seamer by the bat of the sweet-swinging catcher.

The Twins were in for a rough day at the office.

“His fastball had so much explosion,” Indians manager Terry Francona said.

That went for both Masterson’s sinker and his four-seamer. It took some time for the big right-hander to get control of his slider, but he had more than enough to get by. Masterson logged seven innings and held the Twins to one hit — a double from Brian Dozier that dropped just in front of the glove of a diving Drew Stubbs in center field in the seventh.

“Three inches,” Stubbs said.

Close, but no cigar. And no no-hitter.

Masterson ended the afternoon with nine outs via grounders, eight strikeouts, one hit-by-pitch (two, if you count the time in the fourth inning when Dozier swung at a ball that actually hit him) and no walks. That’s right. No walks. Even Masterson didn’t believe it.

“Did I walk anybody today?” he asked reporters.

Nope.

“Yeah!” Masterson said, grinning and pumping his fist. “I didn’t walk anybody today.”

In fact, this was Masterson’s first no-walk performance of 2013 and only the 12th such start of his career. It marked just the second time in his career that he ended a start with at least seven innings, eight strikeouts and zero walks. It was the first time in his career he allowed just one hit with more than six innings logged.

For that lone hit in the seventh, Dozier went up hacking and attacked a 91-mph, first-pitch sinker for his no-hitter-denying double.

“I don’t care if I have no hits or 100 hits,” Masterson said. “We’re still going to challenge guys. A broken bat, that’s what you want. It falls in. For me, in my mind, I get so many balls put in play, something’s going to happen. There’s going to be a hit at some time. So let’s just make sure, when it does happen, we stay in our game and make sure that it doesn’t have a trickle down effect.”

Masterson threw 76-percent of his fastballs (two-seam and four-seam combined), averaging 92.7 mph on his 47 sinkers and 95.3 mph on his 27 four-seamers. He mixed in 19 sliders, with 58-percent going for strikes and 21-percent for swings-and-misses. His lone hiccup in the first six frames was a hit-by-pitch against Aaron Hicks.

“I was just mixing and matching,” Masterson said. “The slider got a little bit better as the game went on. I was able to mix that in. Early on, I was mixing in some sinkers, some four-seamers here and there. I was trying to stay in, get away and just really keep them guessing. Being able to throw a lot of strikes is what helps.”

KipZonesSECOND: Us Tribe scribes spoke with Jason Kipnis after Saturday’s game about his ability to hit the ball to the opposite field. Prior to today’s game, we discussed it again with Francona, who said Kipnis is one of the best he’s seen put backspin on a ball hit the other way.

You can read more about the subject in Sunday’s notebook on Indians.com.

Naturally, Kipnis continued on his opposite-field tear in the win over the Twins.

“He just has that stroke where when he hits the ball with authority the other way he gets rewarded for it,” Francona said. “It’s created a ton of confidence. It should. Right now, he’s keeping everything fair and he’s hitting it with authority. That’s a good recipe for success.”

The All-Star second baseman belted a two-run home run to left field off lefty Scott Diamond in the third inning, drove a single to left field in the ninth, and had a pair of flyouts to left in the game, too. As for the homer, Diamond gave Kipnis an outside fastball and the second baseman sliced it the other way.

“It was just another fastball away,” Kipnis said. “Even more so with a lefty, I’m just trying to stay through the ball. I’m just letting it travel and putting good spin on it right now. I’m not trying to pull the ball. I’m not trying to pull off of it.

“I’ve got an approach working to left-center and a fastball over the outside of the plate looks like it’s middle-away to me. It looks good to me.”

The image included in this item is courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information Group. Click on it to see Kipnis’ averages this season on fastballs to various zones. According to that chart, Kipnis has hit .412 this season vs. fastballs up and away in the strike zone, .391 against heaters middle-away in the zone and .308 against fastballs low and away in the zone.

“I might never pull another ball again,” Kipnis said with a laugh. “But the funny part is they’re going away, away, away right now. It could get really fun if they start trying to come in. Usually if a hitter is going well, you don’t want to come into the zone on their bat. That’s when it could get really fun.”

THIRD: The Indians came through with seven runs on nine hits and ended Sunday with a 4-for-11 showing with runners in scoring position. This, after scoring four runs on nine hits with a 1-for-11 showing in the previous two games (both losses) combined.

“That’s the kind of team I think we need to be,” Francona said. “We need to keep the line moving. There’s going to be days when [Mark] Reynolds hits a three-run homer. But, when it’s not those days, we have the ability to just go from hitter to hitter, and that’s when we’re at our best.”

For the record, Reynolds hasn’t launched a three-run homer since April 20, hasn’t hit a homer at all since June 28, and has a .075/.178/.075/.253 slash line with no extra-base hits in 40 at-bats in July.

I’m getting off topic, though.

In the fifth inning, Reynolds stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and one out, and he popped out into foul territory on the first pitch. That set the stage for Michael Brantley, who has been one of the league’s top hitters in two-out situations with runners in scoring position.

Brantley came through with a bases-clearing triple that pushed the Tribe to a six-run lead.

“Michael Brantley — Mr. Clutch,” Masterson said with a smile. “Just doing his thing with runners in scoring position and two outs. He bats like .500 now within that situation.”

First off, it’s “Dr. Smooth,” Justin. Get it right.

Second, .500? Not quite.

Try .395 (17-for-43) with one homer, two doubles, two triples, 21 RBI and a 1.063 OPS.

Highest average with RISP/2 outs in American League (min. 25 at-bats)
1. Miguel Cabrera, DET, .463 (41 at-bats)
2. Nelson Cruz, TEX, .415 (41 at-bats)
3. Michael Brantley, CLE, .395 (43 at-bats)

Note: if you change the minimum to 20 at-bats, Cleveland’s Ryan Raburn leads the AL pack with a .478 average with runners in scoring position and two outs.

HOME: This was a nice bounceback victory for a team that saw a pair of solid starting pitching efforts wasted in the previous game due to shoddy defense and a lack of offense. After Saturday’s loss, Kipnis made a point to say that some players needed to start stepping up for the team if it’s going to get where it wants to by season’s end.

How did he like the team’s response on Sunday?

“I thought it was good,” Kipnis said. “It’s not really a response. I don’t think anybody really saw the quote or anything like that. I just thought there was a little more of a sense of urgency today. I thought guys came out knowing that we can’t leave here with a sweep on us.

“And we had who we wanted on the mound. We had the big guy on the mound and he’s usually a stopper for things, little losing streaks.”

Stubbs couldn’t make the catch to save the no-hitter, but the Indians came away with a much-needed win.

“I feel like we were in a great position to win a couple games the last two days,” Stubbs said. “We kind of let it slip through our fingers. To come out of here with a win on a positive note is a big thing for us.”

ON DECK:

Indians (52-46) at Mariners (46-52)
at 10:10 p.m. ET Monday at Safeco Field

–JB

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