Masterson Sinking In With Portland

If Double-A righthander Justin Masterson keeps pitching the way he’s pitched so far this season, he might ditch that Double-A label pretty soon.

Masterson, the No. 4 prospect in the Red Sox system, has yet to allow a run or a walk in his first two starts for Portland, and he has 10 strikeouts in nine innings.

The main weapon for Masterson, though, is his lethal sinker, which keeps his infielders busy because opposing hitters rarely lift the pitch in the air. Of the 15 outs that Masterson has recorded on balls in play this year, 13 of them have been groundouts.

"The biggest thing is to have the balance to be able to be behind the ball," Masterson said of his sinker. "My arm angle, a low three-quarters, allows me to get a good over-the-top pitch action. So I just throw a two-seamer the way anyone else throws a good two-seamer, and it gets good sink on it.

"When it’s going its best its getting some really good sink, but it’s late. Sometimes when its just OK, it’s more just kind of floating, getting some drop to it, but it’s more of a float. But when it’s at its best it’s got some late life, where in essence it just kinda falls off the table."

Last night, Masterson struck out seven in five scoreless innings. He recorded eight outs on balls in play, and all eight of them were groundouts. He allowed two hits, one of which was a groundball single that deflected off Masterson and went toward shortstop Ryan Khoury, while the other was an Olmoro Rosario line drive to left field. In his first outing, Masterson went four scoreless innings and struck out three against New Britain, inducing seven groundouts and one flyout. Of the three hits he allowed, two of them came on grounders.

Masterson’s pitches have been sharp in his first two starts, but he said he can feel the difference between days like yesterday compared to days when he doesn’t have his best stuff.

"The biggest difference is the way my arm feels in terms of whether my arm feels like it’s able to get through or whether its dragging," Masterson said. "The biggest thing is the balance, when everything is flowing together as far as my mechanics go. When I’m rushing, the front side goes and the arm tries to drag through."

Masterson said he knows that one pitch won’t be enough to succeed in the big leagues, which is why he was pleased with the way he mixed in his slider and his changeup last night.

"When I stay balanced, when I’m mechanically sound, everything works well," he said. "With the changeup yesterday I was mixing it in on the first pitch and in the middle of the count. The slider last night I was kind of using as a put-away pitch, but I was also using it just to kind of get ahead."