By Sheldon Ocker
Beacon Journal sports writer
CLEVELAND: For the first time in his career, Justin Masterson is a 13-game winner.
It happened Thursday, when he vanquished the hapless Chicago White Sox, as the Indians earned a 6-1 win to sweep the four-game set at Progressive Field.
Masterson pitched 6⅔ innings, allowing the run on Alejandro De Aza’s leadoff homer in the sixth, when the game was already well in hand, the Tribe holding a 5-0 lead.
Two years ago, Masterson won 12 games, but he can leave that number in the dust if he continues to dominate opposing lineups. With 10 or 11 starts remaining, Masterson will have the opportunity to win many more; theoretically, he could even win 20.
Through five innings Thursday, he gave up only one hit but walked three to give the White Sox false hope.
His only problem inning was the seventh, when consecutive singles by Jeff Keppinger, Jordan Danks and Gordon Beckham loaded the bases with one out.
After Masterson struck out Tyler Flowers, Indians manager Terry Francona summoned Rich Hill from the bullpen. He snuffed the rally by inducing De Aza to bounce into a force play.
“Masterson had real good sink today,” Francona said. “On a day when the ball was really flying out to right, it was a good day to have a good sinker.”
Masterson also had a stiff neck, but he dismissed that as meaningless.
“You can say whatever you want [about the neck], but in the end I was able to make pitches when I needed to,” he said.
Nevertheless, Francona made it a point to mention the sore neck.
“He was battling that all day,” the manager said.
In his past four starts, Masterson is 3-0 with a 1.29 ERA, having giving up 15 hits and striking out 29 in 28 innings. De Aza’s homer was the first given up by Masterson since a June 25 in a start against the Baltimore Orioles, a span of 40⅔ innings.
Unfortunately for Masterson, the Tribe has only six games left against the White Sox (he will start no more than twice), who have lost seven in a row and 13 of their past 16.
Masterson has faced the White Sox four times this season and is 4-0 with an 0.85 ERA, striking out 27 and walking nine in 31⅔ innings.
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.