Masterson finds root of issues, seeks return to form
Tribe righty's mechanics off after surgery in '11, but he's back to normal routine
CLEVELAND -- Justin Masterson does his best to keep smiling. The Indians pitcher is always quick to remember that baseball is only a game, putting him in a position to routinely search for any positives within a difficult situation.
Masterson's disposition is such that he can give up seven runs on the road in Detroit, continuing a disheartening losing streak for Cleveland, and then bring up his wife's growing cookie business during a postgame interview. He is the friendly giant within the Tribe's rotation, always keeping things loose with a grin or a playful quip.
At the end of this season, though, Masterson finally admitted that keeping his composure was not always as easy as it seemed.
"It has been challenging at certain times," said Masterson, sitting at his locker a few days before the season's conclusion. "There were definitely some trying moments. What makes those moments so hard is the pride that comes in. You know people are hating on you. Everybody. Even your own team.
"Pride-wise, you want to say, 'Screw you.' It happens. It's a team game. It's a game in general. Things aren't going to always work out the way you want."
Across the board, things did not work out the way the Indians wanted in 2012. The offense labored. The role players struggled. Injuries took their toll once again. At the top of the heap of problems, however, was a rotation beset with inconsistency. Ubaldo Jimenez and Masterson were trusted to lead the way to contention, and instead they paved a disastrous path toward a second-half collapse.
It was a tough season for many of the men inside Cleveland's clubhouse, but Masterson was especially flummoxed by what transpired. Coming off a breakout showing in the previous season, the sinkerballer's setbacks came in sudden bursts in 2012, erasing any statistical progress achieved in his positive starts.
By the time the smoke cleared, Masterson had gone 11-15 with a 4.93 ERA over 34 starts. He was happy about topping 200 innings for the second straight year, but the right-hander was certainly not thrilled with his 88 walks or 212 hits allowed, or by the fact that he gave up at least seven runs in seven starts. Masterson's performance was especially discouraging after he went 12-10 with a 3.21 ERA in '11.
The starter was left trying to make sense of it all.
"The challenging part has been when you feel like you pitched pretty good," Masterson said, "and the results are still six runs on the board or something like that. You're like, 'Seriously?' Whether it's the countless infield broken-bat hits that I'm good at giving up, or some of the bombs, that one pitch where four runs scored somehow, it's not like any one person is at fault."
By the end of the season, Masterson did at least have a theory, which he did not want people to confuse for an excuse. In October 2011, he underwent an arthroscopic procedure on his left (non-throwing) shoulder, forcing him to alter his typical offseason training program. When Spring Training arrived, Masterson had done little throwing due to the surgery.
Throughout the season, Masterson struggled to maintain consistently strong mechanics with his lead arm (left) during his delivery. The sinkerballer admitted at the end of the year that -- possibly due to a different type of offseason -- he never did feel completely right on the mound.
"I just never really felt comfortable, even when things went well," Masterson said. "I think we got to a point where, sometimes you just have to keep it simple. There were some times we tried to do too much. It was, 'Let's do this,' or 'Let's do that.' There's a point where you just have to sit back.
"You realize that you don't have to do more. Sometimes there's that flawed philosophy that if you're not doing something, you're not working hard enough. Sometimes you need to just sit back, maybe just sit there for a second, and not touch a baseball right now. You know what you have to do."
Masterson knows what he needs to do this winter.
"For me, last offseason," he said, "I didn't have a chance to do much working out or anything until a couple weeks before Spring Training. By no means am I making excuses. That's no excuse. But for me to understand where we're at and what need to do, I need to know what was different.
"It's nice to be able to know I'm going to have a solid offseason and have the ability to come back and go back to what I know I can do -- go through the normal routine. I'll do everything I need to do and come back next year, hopefully, having lots of success. That's what I feel like we'll be able to do."