Masterson dominates Red Sox after slow start for Tribe

Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Justin Masterson delivers in the first inning of a baseball game against the Boston Red Sox, Monday, June 2, 2014, in Cleveland. Masterson pitched 7 innings and gave up three hits. The Indians defeated the Red Sox 3-2.

Tony Dejak/AP

CLEVELAND — There must be something about first starts of the month that bring out the best in Justin Masterson.

On Opening Night at Oakland, he pitched seven innings of three-hit ball before the Indians won it in the ninth. In his May 3 start against Chicago, the right-hander went 7 1/3 innings and held the White Sox to four hits.

Monday night against Boston, Masterson ended up having his best performance of the season. After battling some control problems the first two innings, Masterson went seven scoreless innings and allowed only three hits while striking out 10 and walking four as the Indians held on for a 3-2 win at Progressive Field.

The Tribe have won four straight overall and their last seven at home while also ending Boston’s seven-game winning streak.

"You are thinking in the third inning we have the lead but we might have to go to the bullpen early. But he got us pretty deep," Terry Francona said.

Francona talked before the game about how Masterson would cruise through the first couple innings and then have an inning after that where he would run into trouble. On Monday it was the opposite. The Red Sox loaded the bases in the first and Masterson fell behind Jonny Gomes 3-0 before striking him out.

MASTERFUL

It took Masterson 61 pitches to get the first seven outs. Only 31 were strikes as he walked four and gave up two hits. Starting with a double play ball to A.J. Pierzynski, Masterson allowed only one hit, struck out seven and retired 12 of the last 13 on 44 pitches with 36 as strikes.

From the Pierzynski at-bat until David Ortiz’s second pitch in the sixth inning, Masterson threw 25 straight strikes and struck out the side in the fourth on nine pitches.

Said Masterson about his early troubles: "The best thing was I still felt decently under control. I was just kind of missing some balls off. Just keep going with the game plan and things are going to work out."

Left-handers came into the game batting .322 against Masterson. With Boston having six in their lineup, they went 1 for 15. Of the 11 outs on balls put in play, seven came via grounders including two double-play balls.

"We were just throwing a lot of strikes, pounding the zone real good and getting good counts for myself," Masterson said. "I started to get good movement on the slider. Once we got ahead I was able to start using the slider to get a couple guys out."

Besides Masterson’s effort, the Indians were fundamentally sound — besides the two double plays they didn’t commit an error — and took advantage of mistakes when they could. In the first, Michael Bourn led off by getting on with a walk, stole second, moved to third on a groundout and then scored when Lonnie Chisenhall’s bloop single down the left-field line gave the Indians a 2-0 lead.

Bourn led off the third with a triple to center and then scored on an Asdrubal Cabrera grounder. The Tribe’s lone gaffe of the night came in the eighth when Bryan Shaw served up a two-run homer to Xander Bogaerts.

Masterson continued what has been an impressive homestand for the Indians’ rotation. In the four games, they have an ERA of 2.08, have allowed only 16 hits with seven walks, struck out 38 and are holding hitters to a .162 average.

"If we’re going to win it is going to start with the starting pitcher that night and when they give you a chance. … We scratched a couple early and hung on," Francona said.

The win improved Masterson’s record to 3-4 and was his first victory since May 8 against Minnesota. In his previous four starts he was 0-3 and had an 8.84 ERA. Whether Monday’s effort is enough to get him back on track remains to be seen.

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