By Sheldon Ocker
KANSAS CITY, Mo.: If he’s healthy, they will come.
That’s the Justin Masterson story in a nutshell. Masterson, who is recovering from a strained left oblique, played catch from 110 feet on Monday and “did really well,” said Indians manager Terry Francona.
“Best-case scenario,” Francona continued, “is that he will throw a bullpen Friday.”
Masterson’s seamless journey from recuperation to rehab probably will leave him short of making a start before the regular season ends Sept. 29, 12 games from now.
Undoubtedly, he still has to throw more than one bullpen and stretch out his arm by throwing a simulated game or two. Moreover, if the Tribe’s five starters are pitching well, why take a chance on Masterson, who hasn’t thrown a pitch in anger since Sept. 2?
Granted, Masterson has earned the label “staff ace,” but that title comes with limitations after an injury.
“The question is, is it realistic that he can pitch?” Francona said. “If it is, what’s to our advantage? The best thing would be that he’s healthy, then we can figure out how to use him as a weapon.”
Over the weekend in Chicago, pitching coach Mickey Callaway mentioned two ways: Use Masterson out of the bullpen or have him start but pitch only three or four innings.
Whether or not Masterson makes an appearance before the schedule concludes, Francona has been impressed by the way he has handled misfortune.
“I get here pretty early, but he was here before me today,” the manager said. “He’s one of the leaders on this team, and to see him work so hard has been really uplifting.”
If the Indians win one of the wild-card berths and qualify for the postseason, will Francona keep his rotation in its current order? Because of an off day Monday, he could juggle his pitching assignments.
He acknowledged as much but did not say he would alter the lineup of his starters because of a potential postseason appearance.
“We have the day off,” he said, “so I always reserve the right to switch guys around if it would help them.”
He was talking about alleviating fatigue, not who might be his best option in a one-game showdown between wild-card teams.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.