CLEVELAND — Justin Masterson has never looked more like an ace.
After an up-and-down first half that certainly featured more peaks than valleys, the right-hander has turned it up, winning all three of his starts since the All-Star break, while posting a 1.28 ERA (four earned runs over 28 innings).
Masterson, who got his 13th win Thursday after allowing a run on five hits over 6⅔ innings, credits the break for rejuvenating him.
“I’d say it did a little bit,” said Masterson, who is 13-7 with a 3.33 ERA over 23 starts this year. “I was able to reflect on what I’d done in the first half and make those minor adjustments. It’s not going to be perfect, but just going out there and battling each time, I think that’s the idea.”
Masterson, an all-star for the first time in his career, has accomplished as much on a regular basis this year, while offering up multiple dominant outings along the way. He’s held the opposition to one run or fewer in 10 of his starts, and has been the leader of a rotation that has given the Indians a chance to win on a consistent basis for much of the season, especially since the break.
“Every single starter has been going out there since the All-Star break and doing a tremendous job,” Masterson said. “The bullpen’s been coming in and doing great. I like where this team is at. Guys are out there scoring runs. It’s not just myself but everyone seems to be in a really good spot right now.”
The Indians acquired Marc Rzepczynski in a trade Tuesday to address their struggles from the left side of the bullpen, but they might not need him after all.
Lefty Rich Hill (1-2, 6.07 ERA in 44 games) has pitched much better as of late, allowing three earned runs over his last 12 appearances, while striking out 12 over 7⅔ innings. He struck out two of the four batters he faced over 1⅓ innings of work Thursday.
“He’s attacking the zone a lot more and he’s working ahead,” Francona said of the 6-foot-5, 220-pound Hill. “You can’t be comfortable facing him, with those arms and legs, and he’s got velocity and a good breaking ball. I just think his confidence is rising, and it should, because he’s throwing the ball very well.
“And when he’s throwing the ball like that, it complements the entire bullpen. For a while there we were having guys like (right-handers Bryan) Shaw and Cody (Allen) facing guys they probably shouldn’t. Now that he’s throwing the ball well, we don’t have to.”
The Indians are on the road briefly, beginning a three-game series with Miami tonight before returning to Progressive Field for a key four-game series against Central Division-leading Detroit.
Ubaldo Jimenez (8-5, 4.17 ERA) opens the set against the Marlins (7:10 p.m.), while Florida counters with RHP Jose Fernandez (7-5, 2.71).
Zach McAllister (4-6, 3.48) starts for Cleveland on Saturday (7:10 p.m.) against RHP Jacob Turner (3-3, 2.65), with Scott Kazmir going in the series finale Sunday (1:10 p.m.) against RHP Nathan Eovaldi (2-1, 3.47).
The Indians swept the White Sox for the second time in a four-game series this season, accomplishing as much for the first time in franchise history. Cleveland has won eight straight against Chicago — 11-2 overall — with another six games left against the Sox. The Indians are the first American League team since the 2004 Yankees to sweep two four-game series in one season.
** The Indians could go 9-45 the rest of the season and still finish with a better record than they had last year (68-94).
Contact Chris Assenheimer at 329-7136 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Fan him on Facebook and follow him @CAwesomeheimer on Twitter.