CLEVELAND — For much of the season, Justin Masterson appeared to be destined to return to the bullpen.
Masterson has pitched well out of the rotation over his last three outings, the crown jewel arriving Wednesday night as the right-hander offered up what was easily the best start of his career to help shut out the Red Sox, 11-0.
Working the second complete game of his career, Masterson allowed just two hits, and Cleveland’s offense backed him up with an eight-run eighth inning.
The Indians snapped a seven-game losing skid to Boston in the process.
“Justin was fantastic,” said Indians manager Manny Acta. “On any given night in baseball anything can happen. You can beat a ballclub like that. He set the tone for us. He just pumped strikes. He was wonderful from pitch one.
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“For a few weeks, (the media) will stop asking me when he’s going back to the bullpen. He saved me with that one.”
Masterson, who recently ended a lengthy losing streak has looked like a quality starter his last three times out. His last two have come against two of the most potent teams in baseball — the Yankees and the Red Sox. A mechanical adjustment prior to his start at Yankee Stadium might have reversed his fortunes.
“It’s just kind of building off the last couple starts,” Masterson said. “It’s always fun. You get excited about it because you’re feeling good on the mound.”
Masterson’s bread-and-butter pitch, the sinker, worked wonders for him against his old mates. He recorded 17 outs by virtue of groundballs and was never in trouble, preventing Boston from advancing a runner to second base.
“That’s my best pitch,” said Masterson, who struck out six and walked just one. “Everyone knows it’s coming. The ability to control it and have some movement on it was what helped me tonight.”
Whether or not it mattered to Masterson that it came against his former team, it was still a significant victory against a club that was willing to trade him last season for Victor Martinez.
“For me, once you get out on the field, it’s just game time,” Masterson said. “Half the time, it’s me versus myself, not the hitter.”
Masterson, who has been hampered by a lack of run support for much of the season, got more than enough this time around.
The Indians already led 3-0 before breaking the game open with a shocking surge in the eighth inning.
Cleveland batted around off Boston relievers Boof Bonser and Joe Nelson before recording a single out, with a grand slam from Travis Hafner highlighting the uprising.
“We put up some quality atbats,” Acta said. “That’s what it’s all about.”
It was the Indians’ largest shutout since they defeated the Blue Jays 12-0 in 2008 and the largest against the Red Sox since they won 11-0 in 1974. It was Boston’s lowest hit output of the season.
Masterson’s complete game was the fifth by a Cleveland pitcher this season after the club recorded just five all of last year.
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org.