August 22, 2014

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Masterson suffering from identity crisis

GOODYEAR, Ariz. —Is he a reliever or a starter?

That’s been the question since right-hander Justin Masterson broke into the majors two seasons ago with the Boston Red Sox.

“It’s been that way my whole (big league) career,” said Masterson, who did not pitch in either of Cleve-land’s split-squad exhibition games Wednesday, the first a 6-3 loss to Colorado at Tucson’s Hi Corbett Field. “I guess there’s been some different views on me as a starter or reliever. I can’t tell you why.”

After much discussion between the front office and field staff last year, the Indians decided when they acquired Masterson in a trading deadline deal with Boston for catcher Victor Martinez that he was indeed a starter.

After one appearance out of the bullpen, Masterson, who turns 26 on Monday, finished the season in Cleve-land’s rotation, going 1-7 with a 4.55 ERA in 10 starts.

He arrived in training camp this spring locked in as the Indians’ No. 3 starter, with no more questions surrounding his role.

“I think, mentally, it’s a good place to be,” said Masterson, who is the first Jamaican-born (Kingston) pitcher in major league history. “I’m not trying to do too much, and it gives me that added intensity, be-cause I know what I’m working towards, getting in a routine to be a starter.”

And his head isn’t spinning from wondering whether his next appearance will be out of the bullpen or the rotation, like it was for much of his tenure with the Red Sox.

“You can’t deny that it isn’t (spinning) a little bit,” Masterson said. “That’s tough, but I don’t have to worry about that for the time being.”

Masterson’s 2009 statistics with Cleveland didn’t exactly scream, “starting pitcher,” but he had help in posting them. He lost his last six decisions, with the Indians scoring a grand total of 11 runs over his final seven starts.

Cleveland’s most glaring offensive inefficiency with Masterson on the mound came when he tossed the first complete game of his career and struck out 12, but still lost a 1-0 decision to the White Sox on Sept. 30. According to Elias Sports Bureau, Masterson was the first pitcher to lose a 1-0, nine-inning complete game while striking out at least 12 batters, since Pedro Marti-nez suffered the same fate in 2000, and the first Cleveland pitcher to lose a game of that variety since Sam McDowell in 1968.

As he prepared for a starting role this offseason, Masterson dusted off a change-up that he had on the shelf as a reliever. It’s a pitch that has added another weapon to his arsenal, something that is often beneficial, if not imperative, for a starter.

“It’s something that’s always in the back pocket,” said Masterson, who relies heavily on his two-seam fastball (sinker) and also throws a slider. “It may not be used much. If we execute the pitches we have, we can have success, but it’s a great added bonus.”

Indians manager Manny Acta puts a little more em-phasis on Masterson fine-tuning the change-up.

“It’s very important for him as a starting pitcher,” Acta said. “You have to go through the lineup three times. With two pitches, that’s tough.”

Masterson, who is 1-1 with a 1.29 ERA in three exhibition appearances (two starts), said he has been throwing the change-up effectively this spring. He has been tough on right-handed hitters, which was also the case last year, when he limited righties to a .203 batting average —second-lowest in the American League.

“He’s a tough at-bat,” Acta said. “I know for sure that righties don’t want to face him. He’s got good stuff. Besides that, he’s a tremen-dous kid.”

And now, he’s finally a pitcher with a fulltime role.

New addition

The Indians claimed infielder Anderson Hernandez off outright waivers from the New York Mets on Wednesday. To clear room for Hernandez on the 40-man roster, infielder Brian Bixler was designated for assign-ment.

Hernandez, 27, spent nearly all of last season on the big-league level with the Mets and Nationals, batting a combined .251 with three home runs and 37 RBIs in 123 games.

Anderson is expected to join the Indians in Goodyear in the coming days and will most likely compete for a reserve spot on Cleve-land’s opening-day roster.

Bixler, a Sandusky native, was acquired from the Pirates this offseason after splitting last year with Pittsburgh and Triple-A Indianapolis. He hit .250 (4-for-16) with one RBI in 11 games this spring.

Roundin’ third

Today, 4:05, vs. Reds at Goodyear Ballpark, SportsTime Ohio/WTAM 1100-AM (delay 8 p.m.). Hector Rondon (0-0, 0.00) vs. RHP Homer Bailey (0-0, 3.00).

Contact Chris Assenheimer at (440) 329-7136 or cassen-heimer@chroniclet.com.