CLEVELAND — The Indians think Justin Masterson has it all figured out. The right-hander provided more proof Friday night in an interleague series opener against the Pittsburgh Pirates at Progressive Field.
Working his third straight quality outing, Masterson all but put the Indians on his shoulders and carried them to a 2-0 victory over Pittsburgh. The win snapped a three-game losing streak for Cleveland, which just got swept three games in Cincinnati.
Masterson (3-6, 4.38 ERA), who got his first win since May 24, helped snap the skid by tossing seven scoreless innings and turning it over to the near impenetrable duo of Vinnie Pestano and closer Chris Perez.
After struggling to locate consistency for much of the year, Masterson has found a groove. Over his last three starts (20 innings) he has allowed just four earned runs.
“This is the third outing in a row that he has pitched the way he pitched for us last year,” manager Manny Acta said of the Indians’ ace, who allowed just four hits and struck out nine. “You don’t jump the gun on one start, but when you have three in a row, that’s a pretty good indication that he’s going to be all right.
“The story today was Masterson. He was terrific. I think he had the best slider of the year.”
With the slider complementing his two- and four-seam fastballs to perfection, Masterson kept the Pirates off balance all night. He had nearly all of the Pittsburgh hitters swinging and missing, striking out five straight from the second to fourth innings and six of seven over the span. First baseman Casey McGehee was the only Pirates starter that didn’t strike out at least once against Masterson.
“The last couple games, it’s been pretty good,” Masterson said of his slider. “Being able to throw strikes and being able to get ahead of hitters is really it. I’ve been feeling good. It makes it more enjoyable. I like where we’re at.”
The Indians didn’t do much against Pirates starter James McDonald, mustering just a run and three hits off the right-hander over six innings.
Cleveland scored a run in the third on Carlos Santana’s two-out base hit, then left it in the capable hands of its pitching staff.
Masterson was aided by a defensive gem from second baseman Jason Kipnis in the sixth inning.
With one out, a runner on third and the Indians nursing the one-run lead, Kipnis sprinted with his back to home plate to make an over-the-shoulder catch on a pop up, turning and throwing a strike to Santana to prevent the tying run from scoring.
Kipnis gave props to third base/infield coach Steve Smith, who directed him to move back prior to the at-bat by Garrett Jones.
“He nailed that one,” the converted infielder Kipnis said of Smith. “I got a good jump on the ball, fortunately. I’ve been wanting to show people the outfield skills. It was a big play in the game.”
The Indians took the tenuous lead into the eighth inning, when its hottest hitter — center fielder Michael Brantley — delivered an insurance run.
In his last at-bat, Brantley extended his hitting streak to 22 games by lacing a two-out single to center that scored Shin-Soo Choo. The streak is easily the longest of Brantley’s career and the longest in the majors this season.
“Michael’s a cool cat, man,” Acta said. “He doesn’t get overly excited. That streak was on the line and he wasn’t even thinking about that. He was thinking about driving in that run.”
Brantley concurred in a joking manner.
“I was just thinking about scoring that run for us,” he said. “What streak? I don’t even know what you’re talking about.”
Pestano retired the side in order in the ninth, bringing on Perez, who allowed a leadoff single to McGehee before ending the game on a double play for his 21st consecutive save since Opening Day.
The Indians played in front of 31,920 fans, accounting for their first 30,000-plus crowd since Opening Day.
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• WHO: Cleveland vs. Pittsburgh
• TIME: 4:05
• WHERE: Progressive Field
• PITCHERS: Jimenez (6-4, 4.91 ERA) vs. Burnett (6-2, 3.61)
• TV/RADIO: SportsTime Ohio; WEOL 930-AM, WTAM 1100-AM