CLEVELAND — Things looked easy for Justin Masterson over his first three starts, with the right-hander offering up dominating performances in each en route to a 3-0 record and 0.41 ERA.
His most recent effort Wednesday night in a 6-3 loss to the Red Sox wasn’t as smooth — four earned runs on 11 hits over five innings —but it’s done nothing to alter manager Terry Francona’s stance on his ace.
“I’ve been encouraged by him since Day 1,” Francona said of Masterson, who is in his second full season as the No. 1 starter after going 11-15 with a 4.93 ERA in 34 starts last year. “Just because there were a lot of base runners (Wednesday) doesn’t mean that’s the first time that he’s been challenged.
“I think Masty’s in a very good place right now, pitching. When he gives up a hit, I’m shocked. That’s not fair, but that’s how I feel. I watch him pitch and I feel like he’s just going to carve everybody up and I don’t see myself changing that view.”
Among Masterson’s three victories are two wins in head-to-head matchups against defending Cy Young award winners R.A. Dickey (National League) and Tampa Bay’s David Price.
- Second baseman Jason Kipnis (left elbow soreness) missed his fifth straight game, but is expected to return to the lineup tonight. “The hope is that he feels really good (Thursday) during BP and then we send him out there (today) and he can play,” Francona said.
- Center fielder Michael Bourn (right index finger laceration) was cleared to begin hand stretching and is expected to travel with the team on their upcoming road trip. Bourn is eligible to leave the disabled list April 30.
- Backup catcher Lou Marson (neck strain) is expected to begin a rehab assignment with Triple-A Columbus tonight.
With left-hander Jon Lester on the mound for Boston, struggling third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall — .200 with a home run, six RBIs and 13 strikeouts in 11 games — got the night off.
Francona said Chisenhall’s timing was off, stemming from his attempt to go to the middle and opposite field too much. But the manager thinks, like many on his team, Chisenhall’s struggles have been magnified since it is so early in the season.
“You have to be strong enough to fight through it,” Francona said. “As a hitter, you’re going to look up and see your batting average somewhere where you’re not comfortable, and you have to be strong enough to still walk up to the plate with your chest out and know that you’re still a good hitter, same with ERA.”
Catcher Carlos Santana tried to beat a Boston shift with an awkward slap attempt in the sixth inning Wednesday night. With the Indians trailing 5-0, Santana had designs on shooting a ball down the third-base line, but ultimately checked his swing after an awkward stride down the first-base line.
“That caught everyone by surprise,” Francona said. “If he’d have hit that, I don’t where that would have gone. That was interesting. Obviously, the idea was good. When you can’t tie the game with one swing, getting on base is the most important thing. Now, again, I’m not sure about the footwork.”
The Indians hit the road for 11 days, beginning a three-game series with new American League representative Houston tonight at 8:05.
Brett Myers (0-2, 8.82 ERA) opens the set for Cleveland, opposing RHP Lucas Harrell (0-2, 5.63), while Scott Kazmir (0-0, 0.00) is scheduled to make his season debut Saturday (7:05 p.m.) against RHP Philip Humber (0-3, 2.89).
Ubaldo Jimenez (0-2, 11.25) will start the series finale Sunday (2:05 p.m.), while the Astros counter with LHP Erik Bedard (0-1, 7.04).
- Nick Swisher was hitting .318 in 43 games at Jacobs/Progressive Field through Wednesday, the third-highest average — Derek Jeter (.359) and Ichiro Suzuki (.332) — for an active player with at least 40 games at the park.
- Entering Thursday, Indians starting pitchers owned a 0.79 ERA in Cleveland’s five wins and a 9.57 ERA in the eight losses.
- Tonight, 8:05, STO/WTAM 1100-AM/WMMS 100.7-FM.