Masterson shows his worth vs. Red Sox
CLEVELAND -- Gutting a team is never pretty, which is why Victor Martinez and his little boy weren't the only ones crying in Cleveland last July when the Indians traded their popular catcher and best hitter to the Red Sox for a wet-behind-the-ears pitcher and two minor leaguers.
Imagine how Indians fans felt when Justin Masterson, the kid who was supposed to ease their pain over losing their V-Mart, proceeded to run off 17 starts in a row without a win, the longest such streak in club history. All those empty seats in Progressive Field are no accident, not after the departures of CC Sabathia and Cliff Lee and Martinez in the span of less than two years.
But how is the trade going to look in a couple of years, especially if the Sox don't re-sign Martinez after the season, Masterson keeps pitching the way he did Wednesday night against the Sox, and power lefty Nick Hagadone, a former No. 1 draft pick, steadily advances through the Indians' system the way he is now?
Red Sox manager Terry Francona had told Masterson when their paths crossed this week that he hoped the kid won all of his remaining games -- after the Sox left town.
"Sometimes I'm just not very good at listening," Masterson said with a laugh in the aftermath of his complete-game, two-hit, 11-0 shutout in which the Sox failed to advance a base runner beyond first.
Masterson, winless in his first 10 starts this season, has now won two in a row, and the son of missionaries may yet win converts to the notion that the Indians weren't fleeced by Theo Epstein on the Martinez deal.
"All the things we used to brag about when he was in our uniform he showed tonight," Francona said after the Sox lost here after winning the first two games. "He maintained his velocity from the first pitch to the last pitch, he threw a lot of strikes, he stayed down in the zone, he elevated a couple of times I'm sure on purpose, changed speeds enough on the lefties, got the slider under their hands. That's about as good a game as he could pitch."
The Red Sox hit just two fair balls in the air in the first eight innings -- Martinez's line single to left to lead off the second and his fly to right in the fifth -- before two more fly outs in the ninth.
Masterson recorded 18 outs on ground balls, including two turned for double plays, while striking out six. The four right-handed hitters in the Sox lineup -- Marco Scutaro, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Adrian Beltre -- went a combined 0-for-13.
But what was surprising was Masterson's success against left-handed hitters, who came into the game batting .370 against him. J.D. Drew's ground-ball single in the fifth was Boston's only other hit.
"I was getting the slider in, busting some four-seamers in, keeping their head in there, making them wary of something that could come inside," Masterson said. "The movement on the sinker was working the same position outside. I was slowly working it off [the plate] and then having them roll over some balls."
Masterson is still just 25. Hagadone, a 6-foot-5, 230-pound left-hander (think Jon Lester) is just 24 and two years removed from Tommy John elbow reconstruction surgery. The Indians are keeping him on a strict pitch count -- 80 pitches, five innings max per outing -- but he recently was promoted to Double-A Akron and has impressed in both starts there. His velocity is back to a consistent 92-93 miles per hour, and reportedly can touch 97. Between Class A Kinston and Akron, he has 57 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings.
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The third pitcher in the deal, right-handed reliever Bryan Price, is another former No. 1 pick who also is pitching in Double-A with mixed results. Still, the Indians could net three big-leaguers while the Sox have a decision to make with Martinez.
Masterson still has the same warm, wide smile, as someone mentioned to him the other day in the Indians' clubhouse.
"That's all I've got," he said, flashing the whites.
Reflecting on his early-season struggles, he said, "Things continue to help build me as far as who I am. It lets me know there's a little more than just baseball and just because you have skill, that doesn't mean it always works out for you."
Wednesday night, it couldn't have worked out any better for the 6-foot-6 right-hander with the shaven head who just laughed when asked if Pedroia looked even smaller when he's in the batter's box than when he was playing behind him at second base. "I'm not going to answer that," he said.
What he did answer was this: Did he have more games like this in him?
"You want to do that every game," he said. "You see a guy throw a perfect game, I've got to think every pitcher who goes out there thinks when they give up their first hit, 'There goes the no-hitter.' I don't know if everyone does that, but I've got to imagine that takes place. Because when you go out there, you have to have the confidence in your stuff."
So check back in a couple of years. The conversation about this trade is just beginning.
Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.