Masterson makes triumphant return to mound
Hurler pitches scoreless ninth in first action since Sept. 2, first relief outing since 2011
CLEVELAND -- As Justin Masterson jogged in from the center-field bullpen to pitch the ninth inning, the many fans at Progressive Field rose to their feet and excitedly applauded the big right-hander, letting him know both how much he was missed and how much he is appreciated.
The entrance was not the last thing Masterson would do to receive a standing ovation on Wednesday in the Indians' final home game of the regular season, a 7-2 win over the White Sox. After striking out Dayan Viciedo and giving up a soft grounder to Jordan Danks, Masterson worked a 1-2 count against Marcus Semien, which prompted the crowd to get up again. Those in attendance stayed on their feet as the sinkerballer struck out Semien and induced a game-ending groundout from Josh Phegley, voicing roars of approval as the Tribe's sixth straight win went into the books.
"That was kind of cool," Indians manager Terry Francona said. "It worked out really well. We spread it out and we were able to kind of give him a head's-up and give him an inning to kind of know he was coming in. He played catch with the outfielders the inning before and then came in and had a really good slider."
Of Masterson's 17 pitches, 11 were sinkers, four were sliders and two were four-seam fastballs. Both heaters came in at 94 mph.
"It was nice," Masterson said. "I warmed up nice and came out and tried to throw 300 mph. But it worked out well."
The outing was Masterson's first since Sept. 2, when he exited a start after facing just five Orioles hitters. Later, it was revealed that a strained left oblique was the source of his discomfort.
Before Wednesday, Masterson, 28, hadn't pitched in relief since July 9, 2011. For now, that will be his role, though if the Indians make it deep enough into October, he could return to starting. It's possible that he would be available to grab the ball in the latter stages of the American League Division Series.
Because such scenarios are only relevant to the future, Masterson would prefer to focus on the present. And right now, he's a reliever, one who was pretty satisfied on Wednesday.
"It felt good," Masterson said. "The guys did a tremendous job, put some runs on the board and gave me a chance to get out there, get my feet wet. Having not been in competition for three weeks, it was nice to get out there and have some fun."
Now with 30 outings this season, Masterson owns a 14-10 record and a 3.50 ERA across 190 1/3 innings. The first-time All-Star has issued 190 strikeouts and 75 walks.
Starting pitching has been a strength for the Indians this season. The staff leader is now a reliever, but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
"It kind of went from our ace getting hurt to all of a sudden having a weapon," Francona said. "And we will use him. We just need to get him as many outings as we can that make sense, while winning and managing the game. He can be a big part of what we're doing."
Mark Emery is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.