Last year at this time, Justin Masterson, The Starter, was a project who couldn't get left-handers out or stay in the strike zone. The Indians stuck with him, even though it would have been easy to shunt him back to the bullpen, and it's paying off. Masterson went an easy seven innings tonight, allowing five base runners in seven innings; had the game been closer, he easily could have pitched the eighth. He's allowed just three walks in 20.1 innings pitched; in his first 20 innings last season, he walked 11.
Masterson flirted a couple of times with allowing the Orioles back into the game. After the Indians went ahead 4-0, he gave up a run-scoring single to LGFT Luke Scott. Adam Jones then hit a dribbler down the third base line that Adam Everett fielded with his bare hand, just barely getting Jones for the third out. (That play might not have been made by one of last year's third basemen.) A couple of innings later, with two on, Vladimir Guerrero hit what looked, coming off the bat, like at least a double down the left field line, but the wind pushed it down, and Shelley Duncan made a running catch. Otherwise, Masterson cruised through the game. He struck out nine his last time out because the Mariners couldn't lay off his slider; tonight he went with his traditional offerings and got outs early in at-bats.
The breeze that knocked down Guerrero's ball and many others was no match for Travis Hafner's laser in the sixth. Pronk again got on top of a high Zach Britton fastball, one of Britton's few mistakes up in the zone tonight; he gave up a lot of hits, but many were ground ball singles. The young southpaw has a lively low-90s sinker and should be a fixture in Baltimore's rotation for years to come.
One of the nice perks of leading by four or more runs in the late innings is that you often face the worst reliever in the bullpen. And given how Baltimore's bullpen has pitched this season, they offered up a doozy in Josh Rupe. Lou Marson beat out a double play after Cesar Izturis booted the ball, and the game was soon out of reach. The three-run inning included a nice opposite-field double off the bat of Shin-Soo Choo, hopefully a sign that he's coming out of his early-season slump.
Joe Smith got into the game in the ninth to get some work in, though probably more work than Manny Acta planned on. He pitched to seven batters, giving up three hits, a walk, a hit batsman, and a run. Had he not retired Cesar Izturis, Vinnie Pestano likely would have entered the game. But Smith struck out Izturis, so Perstano and the rest of the back-end relievers will be rested for tomorrow afternoon's contest.
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