CLEVELAND: With his second 1-0 complete game victory in the first month and a half of the season, Justin Masterson is proving why he deserves to be called the Indians’ ace.
Masterson’s first shutout came against the Chicago White Sox at Progressive Field on April 12. Masterson, a 6-foot-6 right-hander, matched the feat Monday at home in the first game of a traditional doubleheader against the New York Yankees.
“It’s nice to start a doubleheader like that,” Masterson (6-2) said. “It’s what every guy who starts a doubleheader wants to do — keep the bullpen out of it so we can be fresh for game number two. That’s the most satisfying thing.”
Masterson lowered his ERA to 3.14 by limiting the Yankees to four hits (the first three did not leave the infield) despite facing a lineup stacked with six left-handed hitters. Masterson struck out nine and walked three.
He is the first Indians pitcher to pitch a complete-game 1-0 victory over the Yankees since Luis Tiant in 1966.
“Masty went out and did exactly what you want your ace to do,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. “I mean, they loaded up with their lefties. But from the very first pitch of the game he had power, he had a breaking ball and he attacked hitters.”
Masterson was given a standing ovation after striking out Ichiro Suzuki on a nasty slider that ended a Yankees threat in the eighth inning.
As he began to jog back out to the mound to start the ninth, the crowd showered Masterson with a louder standing ovation.
“Coming off the heels of yesterday, we’d gone through a lot of [pitchers],” Francona said. “The idea’s always to win, but in the back of your mind is always the thought to protect your bullpen.”
Francona said he checked with Masterson, who had thrown 107 pitches through eight innings, before the start of the final inning to make sure he was good to go.
“I wanted to make sure he had enough,” Francona said, “so that if we send him out, he had enough to finish. There was no wiggle room, because we had just one run,” Francona said. “And he made it stand.”
Even amid all the competitiveness, it’s hard not to notice how much fun the laid-back Masterson is having.
“I get a big kick out of watching him because I think he really enjoys doing what he’s doing,” Francona said. “A lot of times as he comes off the mound between innings I catch myself smiling at him. But I gotta remember he’s out there pitching. I just think he enjoys what he’s doing, and he’s doing it well.”
Stephanie Storm can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Aeros blog at http://www.ohio.com/aeros. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SStormABJ and on Facebook www.facebook.com/sports.abj.