Rotation’€™s struggles continue with uncharacteristic outing by Masterson

Apr 6, 2014; Cleveland, OH, USA; Cleveland Indians starting pitcher Justin Masterson (63) delivers in the first inning against the Minnesota Twins at Progressive Field.

David Richard/David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Six games into the season, the Cleveland Indians are 3-3, but the rotation is still searching for its first win.

Many thought it would have happened on Sunday when staff ace Justin Masterson took the hill to face the Twins in the finale of a weekend series. Instead, the right-hander had his worst outing in nearly two years.

In 3 2/3 innings of the 10-7 loss to Minnesota, Masterson gave up six runs (five earned) on seven hits with three walks, two hit batters and four strikeouts.

Ever since the opener, when Masterson pitched seven innings of shutout ball, Tribe starters have allowed 21 runs (19 earned) in 22 1/3 innings and have an ERA of 7.66. With plenty of concerns about the rotation during spring training, the fact that they have stumbled out of the gate early is a concern.

"I don’t think we get discouraged that easy. We’re always trying to get better," manager Terry Francona said. "This is Masty’s second time pitching. His first time he was pretty good and he wasn’t as good today. I don’t think you start to give up on your guys on April 6. We want to do better but if you rush to judgment this early you can miss out on some good players."

The discouraging thing though is that the top two guys in the rotation had some of their worst outings of their careers in the first week of the season.

Masterson’s stint on Sunday was his shortest in a start which was non-injury related since he went only 3 2/3 innings at Seattle on April 17, 2012. Last Wednesday at Oakland Corey Kluber went just 3 1/3 innings, which was his shortest since Aug. 12, 2012, at Boston.

Of the 22 hitters Masterson faced, Twins hitters worked him to three ball counts nine times. He didn’t have command all day long as his breaking ball was out of the zone. In the third inning, when Minnesota scored three runs in the third to take a 5-2 lead, the defense didn’t help Masterson out on a couple plays. Yan Gomes had a throwing error on a fielder’s choice which scored a run and Jason Kipnis couldn’t get his glove on a slow roller to right that scored another run.

"You want to make some adjustments and it didn’t happen. I tried to get some sliders and they were yanking them. It all just led back to not getting in the strike zone," Masterson said.

Masterson’s velocity was lower than usual, but he attributed that to trying to get his sinker to work more once he fell behind.

After the Twins added a run in the fourth, Kipnis started a Tribe really with a bases-clearing double in the fourth to bring them within 6-5. The Indians tied it in the fifth on an RBI single by David Murphy but Minnesota broke it open in the sixth on a bases-clearing double by Chris Colabello off Blake Wood.

The Indians offense had 15 hits and had five with multi-hit games, but they were 3 for 16 with runners in scoring position and left 12 runners on base. In the sixth, the Tribe had the bases loaded but Gomes, who had a two-run homer in the second, grounded into a double play. In the eighth they had runners on first and second with no outs when Lonnie Chisenhall also had a double-play ball. On the year, the Indians are batting just .191 (13 for 68) with runners in scoring position.

An encouraging note for the offense though was David Murphy. The right fielder came into the game 2 for 14 but was 4 for 5 with two doubles and an RBI.

Said Murphy about the rotation: "We know what those guys are capable of and we know they are going to bounce back. I think early in the season it is tough teams sometimes and it takes a little while to click. We’ve had some games where we have played OK and others where we haven’t played great and won some. A 3-3 start isn’t bad but we know we’re better than this."