Recent review: Masterson thrives

BY foxsports • April 11, 2011

Forget about the drama and rivalry and all of the hype surrounding each and every Red Sox and Yankees game. The Red Sox needed to get right in this series, and they looked to a veteran pitcher to make a stand.

On The Mound

Josh Beckett turned back the clock, if only for a day, with a masterful performance against the rival Yankees on Sunday. He dominated the New York lineup and outdueled CC Sabathia. Beckett pitched eight shutout innings with his old battery mate Jason Varitek behind the dish. He struck out 10 batters against two hits and a walk. Sixty-eight of his 103 pitches were thrown for strikes. Fantasy owners and Red Sox fans were left uninspired by his first start, so this was encouraging.

Jon Lester was the overwhelming choice as the preseason AL Cy Young favorite. Los Angeles starter Jered Weaver threw down the proverbial gauntlet with his 15-strikeout victory over Toronto on Sunday. He completed 7 1/3 innings, allowing one earned run on four hits and four walks. Through three starts, Weaver has logged a 0.87 ERA and 0.87 WHIP with 27 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings.

Obviously, Weaver’s third start was eye-popping. It was a much-needed effort to spell an over-taxed bullpen.

In what might be the biggest surprise of the season’s first two weeks of play, the Cleveland Indians extended their winning streak to seven games. Justin Masterson has been a huge part of the hot start, having allowed only two earned runs in 13 1/3 innings (1.35 ERA). Masterson registered nine strikeouts against 11 hits and three walks (1.05 WHIP) during his first two starts. The former second-round pick of the Red Sox shut down the powerhouse White Sox lineup in his first outing and then obliterated Seattle (with nine strikeouts against a single walk on Saturday).

Cole Hamels rebounded brilliantly from a terrible first start with seven shutout innings against the Braves. Hamels struck out eight batters against a single walk and allowed only four hits. He didn’t survive the third inning in his first outing.

Southpaw Derek Holland of the Rangers posted his second consecutive strong start to open the season on Sunday. Holland pitched six shutout innings against the Orioles, allowing five hits and two walks against six strikeouts. He’s allowed three earned runs with 11 strikeouts against three walks (2.25 ERA and 1.25 WHIP) in 12 innings to date. I must note that the wins came against the low-scoring Baltimore (21st) and Seattle (tied at 25th) squads.

Holland’s tag-team partner, Matt Harrison, received 13 runs of support on Saturday. He pitched seven innings of one-run ball against the Orioles, striking out three batters against two hits and a walk. Harrison has pitched seven innings with 11 strikeouts and three walks (1.29 ERA and 0.71 WHIP) in back-to-back starts.

Gio Gonzalez earned his second win with six shutout innings against the Twins. He limited Minnesota to four hits and two walks against four strikeouts. Gonzalez has allowed one earned run with eight strikeouts against six walks (0.69 ERA) in 13 innings this spring.

Following a rough first appearance against Seattle, Oakland’s Brian Fuentes has settled back into the closer role. Fuentes has recorded saves in three consecutive appearances, allowing just one hit with one walk and three strikeouts. The veteran reliever will hold down the job until Andrew Bailey is ready to reclaim his role, which may not occur until early May.

Ryan Franklin blew his third save opportunity in four chances on Saturday. He allowed two earned runs on two hits and a walk against the Giants. Franklin has allowed four earned with six hits and two walks against two strikeouts runs in 3 2/3 innings pitched. He converted all but two save opportunities in 2010. Tony LaRussa told reporters that Franklin isn’t in danger of losing his job as the closer anytime soon. The Cardinals have no obvious replacement on the roster (he did nod to Jason Motte and Mitchell Boggs as developing talents).

Daniel Hudson has yet to find the win column, so his solid start to 2011 might be overlooked. Hudson has pitched to a 3.46 ERA with 13 strikeouts in 13 innings. The Diamondbacks have scored two runs in his two losses.

John Axford failed in his first save opportunity this season. He demonstrated the classic closer mentality by quickly putting that appearance in the rearview mirror. Axford has pitched 3 2/3 scoreless innings with two strikeouts against a walk and four hits in his past four appearances.

Finally, I’m hopeful that you left Dan Haren active in your lineup on a scheduled off day. Haren came on to finish the marathon win over Toronto on Friday night. Haren pitched a scoreless inning in relief to earn his second win of the season. He’s allowed two earned runs with 13 strikeouts against zero 15 2/3 innings.

At The Plate

A former top fantasy catcher has rediscovered his stroke in New York. Russell Martin slammed two home runs on Saturday to help lead the Yankees to a win on Saturday. Martin is batting an even .300 (9-for-30) with three home runs, eight RBI and two stolen bases. The jury was out on Martin following a precipitous decline in production and a spate of injuries in Los Angeles. Martin has sure looked like his former self to date.

Conversely, shortstop Derek Jeter is looking anything but “Jeter-like” at the outset of the 2011 season. He’s continually beating the ball into the ground and entered the new week with an anemic .206 batting average (7-for-34). Jeter has logged a single double with two RBI.

I tagged Prince Fielder as my preseason NL MVP choice, so his 3-for-17 start was less than thrilling. Fielder’s bat woke up against the Braves and he powered the Brewers to a series win over the Cubs. He’s hit safely in five consecutive games, batting .611 (11-for-18) with four doubles, two home runs and 11 RBI.

As mentioned above, the Indians are in the midst of a fantastic seven-game run. Former fantasy hero Travis Hafner has rediscovered his stroke (.370 with two home runs and six RBI). He’s hit safely in all seven games in which he’s appeared. Asdrubal Cabrera has posted four multi-hit games and enters the new week batting .316 (12-for-38) with two doubles, three home runs, nine RBI and a stolen base.

Brian Roberts started the season well and his return to health fueled a hot start by the Orioles. Since the hot start, Roberts has posted two hits with two runs scored in his past 20 at-bats. He’s also been beset by a stomach issue, something worth noting as the season progresses.

Baltimore teammate J.J. Hardy is the latest player to be felled by a strained oblique. He will reportedly miss 2-to-3 weeks of action at a minimum. Cesar Izturis takes over in Hardy’s absence. This likely didn’t impact many fantasy lineups.

Josh Willingham’s contact rate has been abysmal for the A’s thus far, but he has already hit three home runs. Willingham is batting .242 (8-for-33) and has struck out 14 times. Willingham has hit safely in seven of nine games.

Jose Tabata has hit safely in each of the Pirates’ first 10 games. The 22-year-old outfielder has already scored 11 runs with five stolen bases (has four steals in the past five games) and two home runs (with three RBI).

Carlos Beltran isn’t obliterating opposing pitching, but he’s been in the lineup. I’ll take the minor victories as they come. Beltran homered twice on Saturday against Washington. He enters the new week with a .231 batting average (6-for-26) with two doubles, two home runs and five RBI.

And Done …

I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge the departure of former fantasy hero Manny Ramirez from the Rays. I was encouraged by all of the positive reports from the spring and lauded him as a potential low-risk/high-reward option off the wire. Ramirez logged a single hit in 17 at-bats with four strikeouts before leaving the team “for personal reasons.” News trickled out about Ramirez testing positive for a banned substance and that he’d face a 100-game ban.

Ramirez left the game with 547 doubles, 555 home runs, 1,831 RBI and the record for most player-inspired wigs sold.

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