December 22, 2014

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Tribe notes: Justin Masterson thriving in second season as Tribe ace

CLEVELAND — Justin Masterson has taken to this ace thing.

Cleveland’s No. 1 starter since the start of last season, the right-hander has never pitched more like one than he is now.

More of Masterson’s mastery was on display Sunday, as he helped the Indians to a 6-0 victory over the Mariners. He tossed seven shutout innings, while allowing just three hits and striking out a season-high 11 batters.

Over his first 10 starts of the year, Masterson is 7-2 with a sparkling 2.83 ERA. He is riding a 19-inning scoreless streak.

“This dude’s doing it,” first baseman Nick Swisher said. “It seems like every time he takes the mound he’s bent on going nine innings. Anytime you have your ace out there, that’s what you expect. For us, he’s earned all of our respect.”

“He’s a horse out there,” left fielder Michael Brantley said. “It’s fun playing behind him. He gets us back in the dugout.”

It was an inconsistent debut as ace last year, as Masterson went 11-15 with a 4.93 ERA over 34 starts. He’s been a different pitcher this season, according to manager Terry Francona.

“I think last year when he’d have tough times, he had trouble reeling it back in,” Francona said. “Now, instead of an inning, it’s one hitter. His stuff is dominant. He’s been consistent at a very high level. He’s just done everything.”

What has he improved from 2012?

“Everything,” Masterson said.

Paying tribute

Brantley revealed that he was pointing to his father, former big leaguer Mickey Brantley, after crossing the plate on a pivotal three-run home run off Mariners ace Felix Hernandez in the second inning.

Brantley said he and his father watched video of his swing and talked baseball Saturday night.

“I just wanted to tell him that we did it right,” Brantley said.

In-house hustle

A couple of baserunning gems earmarked Cleveland’s win.

Leadoff man Michael Bourn stretched a single into a double as the Indians’ first batter of the game, then scored on a single. Shortstop Mike Aviles scored from second base on a tapper in front of the catcher from Drew Stubbs in the fourth inning.

“If you can’t get excited about that … That was fun baseball to watch,” Francona said. “It was inspiring.”

One-run winners

The Indians own the second-best record in the majors in one-run games from 2009-13 — (107-83, .563 winning percentage) — behind San Francisco’s 122-94 (.565).

Cleveland recorded its American League-leading 11th one-run victory Saturday. It’s lost three one-run affairs. The Indians ranked second in the majors to Baltimore (29-9) last year with a 24-12 record in one-run games.

Minor details

  • Third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall hit his second homer since being demoted to Triple-A Columbus, driving in two runs and scoring two in the Clippers’ 4-3 victory over Scranton.
  • 1B/DH Chun-Hsiu Chen was promoted to Columbus. Chen, a non-drafted free-agent acquisition in 2007, led Double-A Akron with a .328 batting average and six homers and ranked second with 29 RBIs over 38 games.

Roundin’ third

  • Asdrubal Cabrera got the day off. He is hitting .245 with four homers and 19 RBIs in 39 games, but is batting .310 with two homers and 16 RBIs since April 18.
  • Actor Kevin Costner was caught on camera leaving Progressive Field during the ninth inning. Costner is starring in an upcoming movie about the Browns called “Draft Day.”

Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or cassenheimer@chroniclet.com. Like him on Facebook and follow him on Twitter.