The Indians are in the hunt for a playoff spot and Justin Masterson is finally back from his stint on the disabled list. However, that doesn’t mean he’s back to full strength. The Indians are taking their time and not rushing Masterson back into full-time duty. Instead, they will be bringing him in for a series of relief appearances to get his stamina back and to knock some of the rust off of his arm. For this week’s edition of the Weekly Wroundtable, I decided to ask the staff how they would best utilize Justin Masterson as they head into a possible playoff spot.
Ed Caroll: If he’s healthy enough to start, he should remain in this role, but I question his ability to return so quickly to the starting role after an oblique injury.
So assuming starting is out of the question, Francona should use Masterson in medium to high leverage situations. He shouldn’t resign him just to a specific inning (such as the ninth-inning “closer” role), as he is probably capable of a multi-inning role at least.
Jeff Mount:I would like to see him for more than an inning before registering an opinion, but a rotation of Jimenez, Masterson, Kluber, and Salazar would be solid. I’m still not sure about Kazmir or McAllister in a big game, so I would try to get him stretched out to start by getting him 40-50 pitches some time this weekend and see how he handles that. If it goes well he could be in line to pitch one of the first two division series games.
Evan Vogel: If Masterson can make an impact over several games, like the old Mariano Rivera pitching nearly 2 innings per appearance, to assist the weak, miserable back-end of the bullpen that is Chris “Imma Implode” Perez, he could be absolutely huge. The Tribe could utilize him in that role and then use him as a possible long-man in the ALCS. Kluber, Kazmir, Jimenez, and McAllister get the ball as starters and Masterson is the mop-up guy over 2-4 games/the finisher. If you thought Lincecum was awesome out of the bullpen for the Giants, just wait for what Masterson could be… I’d utilize him in the bullpen until the ALCS (if they get there), allowing him to fulfill a valuable role, but not handicapping the club if he were to re-injure his oblique. I live in Cincinnati and wouldn’t wish a Johnny Cueto-like injury on any playoff bound team…except St. Louis.
Brian Heise: Right now I would try to utilize Masterson in the back end of the bullpen in late game situations. Whether that means bringing him in to close out a game or to preserve a lead in the 6th or 7th innings, I feel like that would give him the best opportunity to not only knock the rust off, but to also make a solid contribution. As things stand right now, the Indians starting rotation has been pretty good without Masterson. If that trend continues, why risk throwing it out of whack because you feel like he needs to be a starter.
Nick Wheatley-Schaller: The Tribe need to get Masterson in for as many innings as possible. I know it’s unconventional, but if he could split starts with Salazar they could each pitch 3-4 innings before handing the game over to the bullpen. Using either guy as a 1 or 2 inning reliever would be a waste, all that does is make them waste pitches warming up for 2-3 separate appearances in a series.
Steve Kinsella: I would try to keep him in the pen until after the Wild Card. Maybe get him stretched out in an ALDS game then give him a start in ALCS. I also think Masterson will be stretched out and finish one of the remaining 3 games.
Michael Chaney: I would really like to see Masterson able to be stretched out as a starter for the rest of the postseason, but I’m pretty sure every Indians fan feels the same way. With the recent (and well-documented) struggles of closer Chris Perez, why can’t Masterson simply take his role? It’s a fair question (and I certainly wouldn’t object to that move if the Indians chose to make it), but I feel that Perez actually isn’t as bad as he’s been pitching lately (obviously), and Masterson is much more valuable in the rotation. But that’s not always how it can go. That’s why I’m taking a fairly unique perspective on this: since Danny Salazar‘s pitch counts usually only allow him to pitch 4 or 5 innings, I’d suggest using Masterson as somewhat of a second starter in relief of Salazar. It’s pretty much like a long-relief role, but if Salazar (who has been excellent this year) can only pitch the first few innings, Masterson can follow with a few of his own, and then a different reliever can come on and finish the job if needed — or Masterson could simply finish the game himself. It’s basically like having two separate starters, and using this method could help rest the bullpen and keep it fresh for the other games.
Granted, you really only need 4 starters in a postseason series, so if someone like Zach McAllister were to be put in the bullpen, a similar thing could happen with him, and Masterson as temporary closer is pretty appealing, I must say. But the thought of using Masterson like a starter without being one is pretty cool too.