PHILADELPHIA — Thank you, sir. May I have another?
Justin Masterson rejoined the Boston Red Sox fraternity Thursday with six solid innings in a 6-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park. The right-hander’s performance was full of encouraging signs, and you can bet the Sox gladly would accept similar efforts from Masterson throughout the season.
“Throwing strikes. The slider was good. Just mixing up speeds with the fastball,” Masterson said while assessing his first start of 2015 (and first appearance with Boston since 2009). “That’s going to be the key to success for me at all times — being able to mix in a good amount of sliders for strikes, being able to get ahead in the count and being able to put some guys away.”
Masterson remained in control for much of Thursday’s contest. He allowed just two earned runs on three hits while striking out seven and walking two.
The Phillies made some noise in the third inning, as Masterson issued two walks, surrendered two hits and uncorked a wild pitch. But the veteran kept his composure, settled back down and struck out Ryan Howard to end the threat with a 6-2 lead intact.
“The third inning we got into the stretch and kind of got out of ourselves a little bit,” Masterson said. “Still, nothing too crazy went on in that inning. But enough to say, ‘OK, let’s get back into what we need to do.’ And I think we’ll do that quicker and quicker and get stronger and stronger as the season goes on.”
The two most encouraging aspects of Masterson’s season debut were his ability to miss bats and his propensity for keeping the ball on the ground. Masterson induced seven ground ball outs — in addition to his seven K’s — and that’s exactly what he’ll need to do to be successful in 2015. It’s a formula that led to ample success with the Cleveland Indians in 2013 before injuries derailed his 2014 campaign.
“Well one, he’s pitched in this environment. He knows what Boston is about. Provided that all the physical due diligence that we did checked out, we felt like it was a good investment to make,” Red Sox manager John Farrell said after Thursday’s game, looking back on the Red Sox’s decision to sign Masterson to a one-year contract over the offseason despite a disappointing 2014.
“He’s had a solid spring training,” Farrell added. “History has something to do with it, but like I said before the game, we needed roughly 500 innings to acquire through starting pitching, and two years ago this was an All-Star starter. So we felt like it was a good bet to have a bounce back.”
Masterson isn’t getting ahead of himself in the wake of Thursday’s outing. While he understands the performance represents somewhat of a blueprint for a successful season, he also realizes there’s more progress to be made.
“This is what we’re working towards. It’s just the precipice, just the beginning of it,” Masterson said. “(I’m) trying to continue to get better and get stronger, to have games like this and even better. That’s kind of the goal, to be consistent as we go on and hopefully we’re able to do that.”
Masterson needs to prove himself in his second go-round with the Red Sox. Thursday marked the 30-year-old’s initiation.
And he killed it.
Thumbnail photo via Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports Images