Justin Masterson had one of his best starts of the season and Michael Brantley extended his impressive hitting streak to 22 games as the Indians shut out the Pirates, 2-0, Friday night to kick off a three-game series at Progressive Field. The win improves the Tribe’s record to 33-30 and cuts the White Sox’ AL Central lead to just half a game.
It was a true pitcher’s duel in Cleveland as both Masterson and Pittsburgh starter James McDonald were at their best. After two-and-a-half innings of a shutout stalemate, the Indians finally got on the board in the third. Asdrubal Cabrera drew a one-out walk to set the stage for Carlos Santana‘s RBI double as the Tribe took a 1-0 lead.
The score stood still from then until the bottom of the eighth. With former Indian Jason Grilli on the mound, Shin-Soo Choo drew a leadoff walk. He stole second as Cabrera and Jason Kipnis each struck out before Santana drew a walk to put two on with two out. With another chance to extend his hitting streak, Michael Brantley delivered with an RBI single to score Choo as his streak stayed alive at 22 games.
That was it for the scoring. Masterson held the Pirates hitless through seven innings and Vinnie Pestano and Chris Perez took it from there as the Indians held on to snap their losing streak with a 2-0 victory.
The Good: What an outing it was for Justin Masterson. He was absolutely dealing for seven strong innings, shutting the Pirates out on four hits and striking out nine while allowing only three walks. Pittsburgh’s offense isn’t the most intimidating, but a performance like that is impressive no matter what the circumstances.
The Bad: The easy answer here is the offense. James McDonald and the Pirates’ relief corps held the Tribe to just two runs on six hits. It ended up to be enough and there’s no shame in having an off night against an ace like McDonald, but given the Indians’ struggles to score this week in Cincinnati it wasn’t an encouraging sign.
The “Huh?”: Even with Jack Hannahan back at third base, Lonnie Chisenhall managed to stay in the lineup—he got the start at DH and hit eighth, behind the struggling Johnny Damon and Casey Kotchman. But those two facts have contradictory implications. Despite his struggles with plate discipline Chisenhall tore the cover off the ball in Triple-A Columbus before his call-up, so putting him at DH is understandable. On the other hand he’s really struggled in the majors so far—even after getting a hit Friday night, he’s batting just .227 with only two extra-base hits and no walks.
So which is he: The promising youngster who just needs to find his groove, or a flawed prospect who isn’t ready for The Show? Putting him at DH implies a confidence that he’s better with the bat than Damon or Kotchman, but if Manny Acta little enough of him right now to hit him eighth than the Indians would probably be better off with Shelley Duncan or the just-demoted Matt LaPorta.
Interesting Tidbit: With nine strikeouts Friday and six in his previous outing, Justin Masterson has punched out 15 hitters in his last two games. The last time he accomplished that feat was over two years ago: May 1 and 8, 2010. His personal best is 17, but those games span two seasons—he struck out 12 White Sox on September 30, 2009, then fanned five more (also against Chicago) on April 8, 2010.