Originally posted on Waiting For Next Year  |  Last updated 6/21/12

For the first two months of the season, the Cleveland Indians were a first place club despite several underachieving parts. Nowhere was that more evident than the front end of the starting rotation. Justin Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez, slated to be the 1-2 punch that would allow the Indians to compete, were in no way meeting expectations. The Tribe relied on hot starts from Derek Lowe and Jeanmar Gomez to carry them, but as both of them have regressed back to the mean, it was time for Masterson and Jimenez to step up. In his last three starts, Justin Masterson has been nearly unhittable. He continued that last night as Justin stifled the Reds and led the Tribe to a 8-1 victory to complete the sweep of Cincinnati.

Masterson was able to keep the Reds lineup, an absolute dynamo in Cincinnati and the first game of this series, whisper quiet. His sinker and slider were both on, with Acta pointing to the sinker as his best on this evening, “He pounded the strike zone with that heavy sinker1 , and then he was able to throw the ball by guys with the four-seam [fastball] at 95 miles per hour and mix in a few good sliders. He was under control the whole time.” Masterson scoffed when asked what’s working for him right now. He said he was able to throw strikes early and locate. He makes it sound so simple, and right now for Justin, it is. Masterson went the distance in this one, allowing just one unearned run due to an Asdrubal Cabrera error, which ended his 18 inning scoreless streak. However, Masterson allowed just three hits and one hit batter while striking out nine and walking none, needing just 110 pitches in the effort. With just six walks in his last five appearances and six of his last seven starts being quality, Masterson has been in total control. On a night where the bullpen needed it, they took the night off.

Don’t look now, but Johnny Damon is heating up. That smoking crater in left field seemingly devoid of all talent is finally starting to yield some production. In his last five games, Damon is 6-for-15 and with his 2-for-2 performance last night has now set up camp north of the Mendoza line. While the Tribe bats were on Reds starter Bronson Arroyo early, driving up his pitch counts and scattering hits in each of the first three innings, it was Damon who finally broke through, launching an Arroyo splitter just over the right field wall in the fourth. Arroyo lasted just 4 innings, allowing 5 runs on 8 hits.

Acta, who got a little defensive about his veteran outfielder on Tuesday night when asked about his crash in left field, said of his recent play last night:2

“I can point out at least five games over the last ten days where Johnny had something to do with us winning the ballgame. Starting in Detroit when he hit a double with the bases loaded [with] Max Scherzer. Over there in St. Louis, he hit that two-run homer to give us a cushion against Cleto. The night that Kipnis hit that three-run homer, everybody just remembers the three-run homer, but no one remembers who started the rally, which was Johnny with a single against Motte. Two nights ago here, he hit a double with a man on first base that gave us the opportunity to score those two runs and win the game and today.”

Perhaps on a mission to rectify his sabotage of Jeanmar Gomez’s start on Sunday afternoon, Asdrubal Cabrera has been driving the ball with power. Asdrubal sent his eighth homer of the season out of the park just four batters after Damon. Arroyo tried to get a belt-high fastball past the Indian shortstop, and Cabby was having none of it. Lonnie Chisenhall, who swung a hot bat on the home stand, added plenty of insurance for Masterson’s cause in the seventh with a three-run double off Alfredo Simon.3 4 Those runs were unearned after a hideous call at second base by umpire Jim Wolf, where he neglected to call Carlos Santana out on the force. Eight runs, all without arguably Cleveland’s greatest offensive weapon, Jason Kipnis, who received his first night off of the season.

The Indians next play on Friday night in Houston. They’ll open a three-game series then with Ubaldo Jimenez looking to keep that 1-2 punch rolling, facing Lucas Harrell.

(Photo: Tony Dejak/AP)

___________________________________

  1. That sinker helped induce 13 groundball outs
  2. For the record, I thought I was plenty patient with Damon, not calling for his dismissal until quite recently. However, he’s quietly raised his average and found a way to get on base. He’s not ideal, but he’s much better than Shelley Duncan playing everyday.
  3. Lonnie needs to be the everyday DH until Hafner returns. When Pronk comes back, I think there is still enough time for Hafner, Chisenhall, and Hannahan, with the ability for Hannahan to play first.
  4. If, and it’s a great big IF, Sizemore and Hafner both can return and be effective, there’s going to be some tough calls in terms of roster spots, playing time, and batting order.
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