Justin Masterson: Starting Reliever

Sep 7, 2010; Anaheim, CA, USA; Cleveland Indians starter Justin Masterson (63) pitches during the game against the Los Angeles Angels at Angel Stadium. Photo via Newscom
Source: Yardbarker.com

My demands were finally met, and Justin Masterson was moved to the bullpen for the remainder of the season to keep an eye on his innings.

Before you start whining to me about how he deserves to finish the season as a starter, how he’s shown flashes of brilliance lately, how he’s better than the Lefty Trokia from Hell (Aaron Laffey, David Huff and Jeremy Sowers) getting starts, I’d like to show you Masterson’s innings since 2008:

2008: 88.1
2009: 129.1
2010 (through Sunday): 173 (and counting)

Now, Masterson is only 25. He’s still a developing pitcher, and his arm needs to be protected. Placing him in the pen for the remainder of the season helps him stay sharp and get work in while keeping an eye on that climbing inning total.

So this plan is all nice an dandy, except for one thing: Mitch Talbot couldn’t stay on the mound on Sunday, and is day-to-day with right shoulder inflammation after he was pulled after 14 pitches.

Seeing as Talbot couldn’t get anyone out, and Manny Acta needed someone to eat up innings, he did probably the most sensible thing to do in this tough situation: He called in Masterson.

Masterson was hurt by a Luis Valbuena error, but all in all, he pitched 7 strong innings for the Indians. He also raised some questions about whether I might be wrong about him. I feel that Masterson will never be anything more than an inconsistent starter – glimpses of promise here and there with a whole lotta disappointment in between. However, I feel he can be a lock-down setup guy, and when you pair that with Chris (Pure Rage) Perez, that’s a pretty intimidating back end of the pen.

But more and more, Masterson has been answering my questions about him. His latest “starting reliever” role really impressed me, that he was ready to go and pitch without the preparation. I’m not entirely convinced he won’t eventually end up in the pen, but I’m starting to come around that maybe he does deserve the benefit of the doubt on a rotation spot next year. This is probably what the rotation will look like:

Gomez/Tomlin/FA signee

Is that a playoff rotation? Hell no, unless Fausto is in 2007 mode and Carlos Carrasco is a legit front-end starter. But there are fewer questions in that rotation compared to 2010′s rotation, where we didn’t know what kind of pitcher Fausto Carmona would be, we didn’t know if Jake Westbrook could come back, we didn’t know who the hell Mitch Talbot was (and he IS a #5 starter, but still, the Tribe only gave up Kelly Shoppach for him) and we didn’t know if Justin Masterson could be a starter.

I’m a lot more comfortable with the idea of Masterson staying a starter in 2011 right now. I’d like to see him end this season in the pen for the sake of saving his arm, and then start next season in the rotation. Congratulations, Justin. You just bought yourself half a season from me, half a season free of my bitching. Make me proud.

And fine … Dan, maybe you were right about him.

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Tags: Aaron Laffey Carlos Carrasco Chris Perez David Huff Fausto Carmona Jeanmar Gomez Jeremy Sowers Josh Tomlin Justin Masterson Kelly Shoppach Luis Valbuena Manny Acta Mitch Talbot

  • Dan C.

    Good post. I just think you need to come around and see the Justin Masterson situation from the Indians perspective. Remember when we met Larry Dolan and we kept asking him why Jhonny Peralta was our shortstop? Dolan said his “people” (Shapiro, front office, ect) kept telling him that Jhonny’s offensive numbers make him valuable as a shortstop. As a third baseman, Peralta’s numbers were only average. But if you kept him at shortstop, he was an above average player. (Later on the Indians did move Peralta…to third and then out of town. But you and I both know that if we had ANY capable option at third they would have kept Jhonny at short and put Asdrubal at second for as long as it worked.)

    This is the same type of thinking that I think they have with Masterson. There are only X number of players who can pitch 200 innings and give you an era under 4.50 and a good strikeout ratio. The Indains have to keep all their commodities valuable because they can only upgrade through the draft, trades, and the bargin bin. Until Masterson proves he’s not effective as a starter he will remain in the rotation. Yes, his inconsistency is maddening, but when he’s on, it’s top end of the rotation stuff. No way the Indians give up on that.

    Also, I know you love the thought of Masterson setting up Rage Perez, but lets be honest; finding a good setup guy is a lot of luck. We caught lightening in a bottle with the Raffey left/right combo. Two years later look what happened. Hell look at Edward Mujica!! I’m convinced a good bullpen isn’t just great arms (although that’s part of it, u gotta have guys in the pen who can strike guys out…curse you Joe Borowski) but it’s also about confidence and chemistry. Maybe Masterson would be great in the bullpen, but he’s pretty good as a starter, and I’d rather be searching for bullpen guys than a #3 or #4 starter. (And I still say Masterson could be a #2 if he ever becomes consistent)

    /end rant