Sheldon Ocker

GOODYEAR, Ariz.: By the last week of spring training, most players are tired of the routine, the drills and the games that don’t count.

This is the last week of spring training for the Indians.

“Tired of it?” Justin Masterson said. “Of course. I’m tired of playing in nonmeaningful games.”

Masterson will have one more “nonmeaningful” start in the exhibition season before he pitches against the Toronto Blue Jays on Opening Day in Cleveland on April 5.

In his next-to-last appearance of the spring on Monday, he gave up five runs, seven hits and one walk, hit two batters and struck out four.

A bravura performance? Hardly. Does not matter? Not unless someone has Masterson on his spring training fantasy baseball team.

Through four innings of the 6-5 Milwaukee Brewers win, Masterson yielded only one run on three hits and induced eight batters to bounce into infield outs, striking out three. During this span, only one batter was retired by an outfielder: Mat Gamel, who flied routinely to center.

The lone run scored on Nyjer Morgan’s triple and an RBI ground out by Ryan Braun.

“I was rushing myself a little in the fifth and sixth,” Masterson said. “Most of the hits came on flat sinkers. Aside from that, I feel pretty good.”

As a result, Masterson gave up three runs in the fifth and one in the sixth on four hits, a walk and one hit batter. Travis Ishikawa and Taylor Green delivered ringing doubles.

“My arm was dragging [the last two innings], so I was getting underneath the ball [which flattened out the pitches]. It’s an easy adjustment to make. So let’s get the party started.”

Not quite yet. Manager Manny Acta will throw Masterson out there on Saturday, but his workload will ease in anticipation of his Opening Day start. He threw 98 pitches against the Brewers; Acta said it will be fewer next time.

“He threw the ball pretty decent,” Acta said. “He’s ready to throw 100-plus [pitches] on Opening Day, provided he’s OK.”

Acta did not mean to set off any alarms with the “provided he’s OK” phrase. He was just being cautious with his words.

Masterson is the Tribe’s No. 1 starter, the ace of the staff, so the pressure is on. Or is it?

“I don’t take it as creating pressure,” he said. “Wherever you are, pressure can find you.”

Masterson talked about throwing his change-up Monday, a pitch that he used to be reluctant to use.

“After you throw hard, hard, hard, you don’t trust yourself to throw a change-up,” he said. “But now I have a new grip. It’s nothing too exciting. I’ve probably tried 200 change-up grips. I might have used this one before. It’s kind of circle-esque or whatever you call it. But now I trust the pitch.”

Acta still hasn’t completed his rotation. Kevin Slowey, Jeanmar Gomez and (technically) David Huff are still in the running for the fifth spot, but the competition seems to have narrowed to Gomez and Slowey, with each having one more start.

“We’re going to have to see that last outing,” Acta said. “If we were ready to make an announcement today, we’d make it. But I think the last outing is important.”

Slowey has not had a spectacular spring, giving up nine earned runs in 12 innings. Gomez did not give up a run in 11 innings going into his last start, when he allowed three runs in five innings.

Slowey has more experience and a commendable track record. Gomez is young, has a live arm and certainly has made a positive impression in spring training.

Another area of uncertainty is left field. Presumably, Shelley Duncan will get the starting job, but ostensibly Ryan Spilborghs, Aaron Cuningham, Felix Pie and Fred Lewis [who is hurt] are in contention for the job, though none has taken the opportunity and run with it.

“It just hasn’t happened,” Acta said. “Maybe these guys put too much pressure on themselves. At the end of the day, we’ll probably have to make a decision on them. Usually, you like them to make the decision for you.”

Almost two weeks ago Acta said, “They’re all tied for last.” That no longer is true.

“I probably have a guy in mind,” he said, “but I’m not going to announce guys until the end of camp.”

Sheldon Ocker can be reached at socker@thebeaconjournal.com. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/blogs/tribe-matters. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.