By Sheldon Ocker
Beacon Journal sports writer
CLEVELAND: Whatever was going on at Progressive Field on Monday didn’t feel quite like the real thing.
Justin Masterson pitched one inning, threw 25 pitches, and was followed by seven relievers, as the Baltimore Orioles registered a 7-2 decision in the first exhibition game of spring training.
Except this isn’t spring; the training wheels came off long ago, and the game counted.
The Tribe can ill afford to lose many to teams it is competing against to win the second wild card, but that’s not the only thing that went wrong, maybe not even the worst thing.
Masterson left the game after giving up a single to the first batter in the second inning, because he was experiencing soreness in his left rib cage.
Asked how he hurt himself, Masterson said, ‘‘That’s a really good question. I don’t know how I did it. I had just touch of soreness. I got a little heat on it between innings, but it must have tightened up when I went out for the second.’’
Masterson got through the first, giving up only a walk. But after a throwing his second pitch to Matt Wieters in the second, manager Terry Francona and head trainer Lonnie Soloff trotted to the mound to check on Masterson, who remained in the game until Wieters singled to left.
Francona returned to the mound, this time to accompany Masterson to the dugout.
‘‘I threw a pitch that Carlos [Santana] didn’t like, so I was done,’’ Masterson said, trying to make light of the situation. ‘‘When they came out there, I wasn’t getting through my pitches.’’
Francona said more information would be forthcoming after Masterson undergoes more tests.
‘‘It’s a musculature thing,’’ the manager said. ‘‘He’ll get it scanned. We’ll know more [today]. I think he felt it near the end of the first on a couple of pitches to [Chris] Davis, so we kept our eye on him.
‘‘Guys like to pitch, they like to play, but we needed to get him out of there. We didn’t like what we saw. They [his pitches] weren’t coming out [of his hand] very good.’’
Masterson didn’t think the injury was serious.
‘‘In my mind, with the pitchers we have here, if I get a couple of extra days,’’ he said, indicating that his next start might have to be delayed but not missed. ‘‘Earlier in the year, I had some soreness leading up to a game, which is why I wasn’t real scared.’’
Why did Francona use so many relievers? Because he could.
By the time tonight’s game begins, the Indians’ inventory of relief pitchers will have mounted to 14. Vinnie Pestano, C.C. Lee and Carlos Carrasco are expected to report today, so Francona had 11 to work with Monday.
Preston Guilmet, who came to Masterson’s rescue, gave up two runs and let in one for Masterson in one inning. Nick Hagadone, next to try his luck, yielded a two-run homer to Nate McLouth, who already had an RBI double off Guilmet.
Bryan Shaw, Blake Wood, Clay Rapada and Matt Albers combined to throw four scoreless innings, giving up four hits.
But Marc Rzepczynski gave up a two-run homer to Wieters, his fourth hit of the game, to snap a 12⅓-inning scoreless streak he had compiled since coming to the Tribe in a trade from the Cardinals July 30.
Wood walked two but got the side out without giving up a run. Moreover, he was throwing fastballs in the upper 90s, which should resolve any lingering doubts about his health.
The Indians continued to treat opposing pitchers like they would their grandmothers. That is, Tribe batsmen went out of their way not to create any stress for Orioles starter Bud Norris and his successors on the mound, so as not to cause a jump in their blood pressure.
Asked what Norris did that so baffled his teammates, Jason Kipnis jokingly said, ‘‘He had a scheduled start against our lineup.’’
Both he and Francona said that the key to Norris’ success was managing the strike zone.
‘‘He threw strikes and located pretty well,’’ Kipnis said. ‘‘He also kept the ball down. He’s catching us not at a good time. But it’s time to snap out of it. And we can’t expect to put the weight on [one hitter’s] shoulders. It’s a team thing.’’
There were a few exceptions to the offensive malaise. Michael Brantley had three of the Indians’ six hits, including a double. Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall each homered with nobody on base to keep the game within reach until Wieters’ two-run bomb in the ninth.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at email@example.com. Read the Indians blog at http://www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.