Rays Blast Masterson Early And Often

In his last six starts, Justin Masterson had allowed just 9 earned runs in 42 innings pitched while walking 9 and striking out 36. Last night, that positive streak hit a speed bump as Masterson was shelled for the first time since late May, allowing eight earned runs in less than five innings as the Rays pounded the Tribe 10-3 in game two of their four-game series heading into the All-Star break. You could point simply at the fact that Masterson couldn’t locate or get ahead of hitters in this one, but the two most crucial half-innings tell the tale of problems plaguing the Indians not just in this game.

I’m talking, of course, about the bottom of the first and the top of the third innings. After Masterson gave up two in the first on a two-run homer to Ben Zobrist, the Indians were able to answer back with two of their own. However, the way in which they did it squandered what could’ve been a much bigger inning. They loaded the bases to begin the inning with none out. Then, Travis Hafner grounded into a double play that plated Shin-Soo Choo. Following that, Asdrubal Cabrera dancing down the line at third coaxed Tampa Bay starter Alex Cobb into a balk to score run number two. But, what could have been a much bigger inning stopped right there. It essentially let Cobb off the hook, he settled down throughout the rest of the game1, and the Tribe offense went back to doing the bare minimum.

As for the top of the third, it brought to light the single most frustrating thing with respect to this team in the past month: response runs from the opponent2. The Tribe starters have had an absolutely startling lack of success when it comes to shutting the other team down after they score runs. With the current state of this offense3, you have to be able to capitalize when the offense does deliver. To be fair, I’m generally seething about this more when they’re “true” response innings4, but this had much the same feeling. In the third, Masterson loaded the bases5 and surrendered a two-out two-run single to the Rays backup catcher, Jose Lobaton, on the first pitch of the at-bat.6 When Masterson did find the zone, he was missing Santana’s target and winding up right down the middle of the plate with his fastball. It happened on the Zobrist homer with a 3-0 count and on the first pitch to Labaton.7

The “It’s just not our night” moment, however, despite the account above, has to undeniably be the two-run homer that Luke Scott belted off of Masterson to give Tampa Bay a 6-2 advantage and start a 6-spot inning for the Rays. Scott, in the midst of a 0-for-41 slide, sent a knee-high-and-in sinker just over the wall in right-center as Brantley narrowly missed getting leather on it. Masterson would put two more on before exiting in favor of Nick Hagadone. Hagadone proceeded to allow the first three hitters to reach base and put two more runs on Justin’s already hefty tab. The final damage for the big Tribe righthander? 8 runs, 9 hits, 4 walks, 7 strikeouts in 4 1/3 innings pitched.8

Hagadone struggling9 is only the latest installment of a painful realization that the Tribe has an often outstandingly bad front end of the bullpen and no left-hander that they can trust at this time. When your two lefties are fluttering around a 6.00 ERA, you should be looking elsewhere for help. Fortunately, Tony Sipp has pitched well his last three times out (Including one scoreless inning tonight) and Esmil Rogers10 has been a lifesaver in addition to the 1-2-3 of Smith, Pestano, and Perez. But, with Rafael Perez still out of commission, the Indians are going to continue to dance around using their southpaws in tight jams.

To be honest, for a team that prides itself on being built on its pitching, there needs to be a few more performances where pitchers take the team on their back and deliver a victory. It’s hard to beat up on Masterson when he’s been so great for the last month-plus, but it really hurts when a guy who is supposed to be your ace can’t even give you five innings while keeping you in the game. The three multi-run innings were just too much for the Indians’ offense to overcome. The Indians permitted the Rays score their runs in pairs, and that’s never a recipe for success.

With the series tied at one apiece, Ubaldo Jimenez faces Matt Moore tomorrow evening.

(Photo: Tony Dejak/AP)

  1. 6 innings, 3 runs, 6 hits, 2 walks, 4 K’s []
  2. Honorable Mention goes to not driving in runners in scoring position with less than two outs []
  3. You know, a big smoking crater in the 4-6 spots minus wherever Brantley is hitting for the last month []
  4. By that, I mean the inning immediately following scoring runs. []
  5. Two of those via walks []
  6. After a visit from Scott Radinsky, which probably entailed him telling Masterson to get the ball over the plate and start throwing strikes. []
  7. Both pitches he probably expected the hitter to take. []
  8. 102 pitches, not hard to reach that pitch count fast with so many Ks and BBs. []
  9. He’s given up at least one run in 5 of his last 7 outings and more than one in 4 of those. []
  10. Just six hits and one walk in 12 1/3 innings with Cleveland. []