By Paul Hoynes
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Spring training in the Arizona desert is about the big sky and days that seem to be carbon copies of each other. The sun is always blazing and the ball always flies.
For pitchers it is more of a mechanical thing. A refresher course on what tool works best when a part starts to leak oil. Justin Masterson found it with a stiff left hip Sunday. Ubaldo Jimenez has been testing a faster delivery and a more confident outlook between the ears. It hasn’t hurt his eyes, either.
These are good things, because Masterson and Jimenez are going to be the Indians’ top two starting pitchers when the season opens April 2 in Toronto. Last year’s version of the dynamic duo did not play well in Cleveland, but in every other America League city they made headlines. Lose a combined 32 games, as Masterson and Jimenez did, and the opposition sends a police escort to greet your team bus at the airport.
Masterson and Jimenez are working toward a different outcome in 2013.
Sunday against the Reds, Masterson allowed five runs in the first inning. Xavier Paul hit a three-run homer and Todd Frazier had a two-run blast. The thing Masterson was most upset about was issuing his first walk of the year before Frazier’s homer.
“I told myself, ‘I just walked a guy, there is something going on here,’” Masterson said. It took him an inning and another walk, this time to Paul to start the third inning, to discover what change he needed to make.
What Masterson did was instead of landing with his left foot pointed directly at the plate, he moved a few inches to his right.
“I closed it off a little bit, to throw off a stiff hip,” Masterson said. “It’s the thing we’ve been talking about all spring, and sure enough after we made that adjustment, all of a sudden the ball had a lot more depth to its break, we had some quick innings and not a lot of good swings.’
After the five-run first, Masterson threw three scoreless innings.
Masterson is 2-0 with a 6.39 ERA in four Cactus League games. He’s struck out 12, walked two and allowed nine runs and 13 hits in 122/3 innings. He also threw five scoreless innings in a B game.
Jimenez pitched 51/3 innings Monday in a 4-2 victory over Milwaukee. At times he looked like the same Jimenez who last season led the AL in losses (17), wild pitches (16) and finished second in walks (95). But each time it looked like trouble was going to turn into a torrent of runs, he escaped.