SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.: Justin Masterson’s status as the Indians’ Opening Day starter was a mere formality.
But manager Terry Francona couldn’t resist sneaking the announcement into his post-game press remarks after the Tribe defeated the Arizona Diamondbacks 7-1 Tuesday at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.
“I thought our Opening Day starter looked pretty good,” Francona said. Masterson pitched four scoreless innings and didn’t allow a hit. Facing 12 batters, he walked one, struck out one and hit two.
The season opener March 31 at the Oakland Athletics will be the third consecutive year Masterson has earned the starting honor. He refused to comment on the possibility when he talked before the game ended, but Francona didn’t mind gushing.
“I think it’s a big honor for him, it’s an honor for us to tell him and I think he’s very deserving,” Francona said.
Francona was managing in Boston when the Red Sox traded Masterson, Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price to the Indians for catcher Victor Martinez on July 31, 2009. Masterson, a product of Beavercreek (Ohio) High School and San Diego State, immediately became a starter for the Indians.
“I thought he had come a long way then,” Francona said, thinking back to 2009. “We can’t take credit for Masty. When we got Masty, he was already one of the nicest, most respectful kids you’ve ever seen.
“When we made that trade, it was hard. We were trying to win, but he’s a pretty special kid.”
The Indians are in the midst of talks on a multiyear contract extension with Masterson. His agent reportedly gave the Tribe a proposal for a three- or four-year deal. Masterson said Indians owner Paul Dolan had been out of town, which slowed negotiations.
“They’re working through it, seeing what they can do, how they feel about it,” Masterson said. “I think Mr. Dolan’s been out of town for a little while. He’s back, so we’ll see what happens. It’s still as it was.”
Francona said Masterson (1-0, 0.00 ERA) isn’t ready for Opening Day yet, but he will be.
“He’s got good movement on his two-seamer, he’ll ramp up his fastball when he wants to and he’s working on getting that breaking ball to season form,” Francona said. “That’s what a good pro does.”
One of the batters he hit was former Indian Shelley Duncan.
“I didn’t want to hit anybody,” Masterson said. “I led the league last year in hit batters. Since I’ve been up here, I think I led the league the last six years in hit batters. If you’re right-handed, there’s always a chance I’m going to lose a sinker that might go into your back. Nothing personal.
“Usually I don’t apologize when I hit people, but for Shelley I gave a little [nod]. It’s wasn’t on purpose.”
Chisenhall’s big blast
The Indians (10-2-1) totaled 14 hits, including a two-run home run to center field by third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall in the fourth inning. Chisenhall, who went 2 for 4, will be the designated hitter today against the San Diego Padres in Goodyear.
Francona said Chisenhall has “done everything we’ve asked him to do” as he battles Carlos Santana for the third base job. Francona indicated before the game that the Indians might go into the season before they make that decision.
“April 1 is kind of an artificial deadline,” Francona said. “We don’t have to set the playoff roster. We’ve got a long season ahead of us. Opening Day is a big day, but it’s not the final day.”
Belle in the house
Albert Belle said he loves watching Masterson pitch. But the former Tribe slugger said he had no idea Masterson would be on the mound when he decided to attend Tuesday’s game. Belle lives in North Scottsdale, where he is comfortably retired and a stay-at-home dad for his four daughters, who range in age from 4 to 13.
“I didn’t realize kids were a lot of hard work,” Belle said.
He watches the Indians on the MLB package “all the time,” but he said the extent of his involvement with baseball is usually one Tribe spring game a year. He is considering coming to Goodyear before the Indians depart March 27.
Harang fans six
Right-hander Aaron Harang struck out six minor leaguers in three innings as the Indians battled the Chicago White Sox to a 7-7 tie in a ‘B’ game in Goodyear. Harang gave up five hits, including a home run, and two runs (one earned) and walked none. Right-hander Scott Atchison, fighting for a spot in the bullpen, allowed one earned run and two hits in two-thirds of an inning. He walked two and struck out two.
Right fielder Ryan Raburn was the Indians designated hitter, his first action since running into the wall and bruising his left knee Friday at Cubs Park. He went 2-for-3 with a double. Infielder Ryan Rohlinger was 3-for-4 with two doubles and three RBI.
Marla Ridenour can be reached at email@example.com. Read the her blog at https://ohio.com/marla. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MRidenourABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.