GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Though it came as no surprise, the Indians officially named right-hander Justin Masterson their Opening Day starter Tuesday.
Manager Terry Francona informed Masterson that he would be on the mound April 2 in Toronto in the dugout prior to an exhibition game against the Royals at Goodyear Ballpark.
“You can never expect anything, but it’s something I hoped for and thought, if (I) do what (I) can, it should be where (I’m) at,” Masterson said. “It’s exciting. It’s where I want to be — the first guy going out and setting the tone.
It’s also just one day, but it’s something that needs to be done every five days that I go out there, to set the tone and give the team a chance to win.”
It will be the second straight Opening Day assignment and the second of Masterson’s career. He offered up a brilliant performance in his first one last year at Progressive Field in a 16-inning loss to the Blue Jays — one run over eight innings, with a career-high 10 strikeouts.
“He’s the leader of our staff,” Francona said. “I think he’s taken that responsibility. I think it’s appropriate.”
“Whether I was doing Opening Day or not, I feel like I’m one of the leaders on this staff,” Masterson said, “a guy who’s going to go out there by word and by deed and set the tone for the way the Indians go about their business.”
This time around, Masterson will be pitching in a hostile environment at Rogers Centre.
“A big crowd, I don’t care if they’re for me or against me, as long as there’s a lot of people there,” said Masterson, who went 11-15 with a 4.93 ERA in 34 inconsistent starts last year. “Either way, it just makes it fun to go out there and do your thing.”
Though Francona wouldn’t confirm as much, right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez is expected to fill the No. 2 spot in Cleveland’s rotation, which means he would be in line to pitch the home opener against the Yankees, April 8.
“Those things will fall into place, Francona said. “We just need to let it play itself out a little bit.”
Francona said there are three spots locked down in the bullpen — closer Chris Perez, setup man Vinnie Pestano and right-hander Joe Smith, but it’s actually four, with right-hander Matt Albers all but certain to make the roster.
Albers, who was acquired in a three-team trade with the Diamondbacks, is out of minor-league options and scheduled to make $1.75 million on a one-year contract.
The rest of the field for what figures to be three available spots includes right-handers Bryan Shaw, Cody Allen, Matt Capps and Frank Herrmann, and left-handers Nick Hagadone, Scott Barnes, David Huff and Rich Hill.
It sounds as though Francona will not keep a long reliever.
“I’ve never been real worried about a guy that can go five innings, because if he’s doing that, that’s a bad game,” he said. “You hate to kind of prepare for that. What’s more important is that you have a couple of guys that can go multiple innings and then bounce back and pitch.”
(bullet) Smith (strained left oblique) threw off the mound Monday and is scheduled to work his first live batting practice session Thursday.
Who’s the fastest?
With a wealth of speedy players expected to fill Cleveland’s lineup, Francona was asked if he thought it would become an intrasquad stolen base race.
“I would say no,” Francona said. “The idea is to do it within the framework of playing the game correctly. There’s some games where even if you have speed on, it’s not time to run.
“I’m just as enthusiastic or hopeful that we’ll go first to third, we’ll push and run some people into mistakes, as just the number of stolen bases.”
Cleveland is projected to employ three players — center fielder Michael Bourn (42), second baseman Jason Kipnis (31) and Drew Stubbs (30) — that stole at least 30 bases in 2012. Left fielder Michael Brantley can also run.
The Indians announced that single-game ticket sales are up 40 percent from last year and have almost doubled from 2011. Tickets went on sale Monday, with the home opener selling out in six minutes … Today, 3:05 p.m. vs. Seattle at Goodyear Ballpark. Brett Myers (1-0, 4.50 ERA) vs. Danny Hultzen (0-0, 0.00).
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