The Indians shuffled their rotation slightly for the upcoming series in Toronto, but the adjustment was aimed at keeping staff leader Justin Masterson on his normal schedule. Cleveland has found that Masterson, specifically, has responded best to a typical five-day routine.
Masterson will take the mound opposite Blue Jays knuckleballer R.A. Dickey on Tuesday in the opener of a three-game series at Rogers Centre. Cleveland's sinkerballer was originally penciled in to start on Wednesday, but that would have given him five days of rest between outings.
Masterson feels that staying on a five-day program aids his performance.
"It just feels right. I don't know what it is or how it works, but it just seems to be right," Masterson said. "I don't really know. It just kind of works out well. Everything is kind of lined up and you can say, 'Hey, this is my day. This is when I'm doing it and I'm going to make it work no matter what.' There's no question marks or anything. You know it's your day."
The numbers back up how Masterson feels about the issue.
In four starts on regular rest this season, Masterson has turned in a 2.96 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP. In his other three starts, which have come with extra days off, the right-hander has posted a 7.36 ERA and 2.05 WHIP. For his career, Masterson has a 4.13 ERA on normal rest (87 starts) compared to a 4.82 ERA with extra days between starts (54 starts).
Cleveland's rotation as a whole has been able to pitch mostly on a normal routine in May, during which the group has performed as one of the tops in the American League. With the scheduled off-day on Monday, the Indians opted to keep Masterson and Corey Kluber (Wednesday) on a five-day program, but pushed righty Danny Salazar to Thursday (seven days of rest).
"Now you're noticing, they're on their five days, and all of a sudden here they are and they're pitching the way they're capable of pitching," said Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway. "Not to use it as an excuse, but that's what we stress the most is routine. And any time your routine gets messed up, it can have that effect."
Over his past five starts, Masterson has gone 2-1 with a 2.94 ERA, striking out 33 and walking 11 in 33 2/3 innings. On Thursday against the Twins, he was charged with four runs (two earned) on four hits in 6 1/3 innings, ending with seven strikeouts and four walks.
Dickey is also on a strong run of late, having gone 2-0 with a 3.28 ERA in his last four turns for Toronto. During that stretch, the right-handed knuckler has 23 strikeouts and 10 walks in 24 2/3 innings. On Thursday against the Phillies, Dickey picked up a win after giving up three runs (two earned) on seven hits in 6 1/3 innings, in which he had eight strikeouts and three walks.
Dickey has fared especially well at home this season, potentially giving him an edge in the meeting with the Indians. In five starts in Toronto this year, Dickey has gone 3-1 with a 3.06 ERA. On the road, the knuckleballer has gone 0-2 with an 8.22 ERA in three starts.
Indians: Lonnie's got a glove
Third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall has been breaking in a first baseman's glove for the past couple weeks. In the eighth inning of Saturday's loss to the Rays, Tribe manager Terry Francona offered Chisenhall his first career inning at a position he's adding to his repertoire. Cleveland's staff presented Chisenhall with the idea.
"It doesn't matter to me," he said. "You want to be in the lineup. You want to help the team win if you're swinging the bat well, or there's chances for you for come in defensively, or you're running and come in to play defense. ... The more options the better at this point."
Blue Jays: The Melky way
Melky Cabrera started 2014 with a 14-game hitting streak and he's rode that momentum to a .333 batting average and an American League-leading 55 hits. Cabrera also set a franchise record with 40 hits in March and April. His success has been the product of a sound and consistent approach, according to Blue Jays hitting coach Kevin Seitzer.
"He never tries to do too much, he never panics with two strikes or in big situation," Seitzer said. "He's always been the same guy with the same approach."
• Canadian John Axford heads north of the border temporarily removed from the closing role for the Indians. While Axford sorts through some mechanical adjustments and aims to cut down his walk rate (13 in 14 2/3 innings), Cleveland will use any of Cody Allen, Scott Atchison, Marc Rzepczynski and Bryan Shaw in the ninth inning.
• Not only has Cabrera been enjoying a strong early showing this season, Toronto's No. 2 hitter has thrived in his career against Masterson. Cabrera went 3-for-3 against the sinkerballer on April 18, giving him a .556 (15-for-27) average and 1.341 OPS in his career against Masterson.
• Indians center fielder Michael Bourn has more plate appearances (39) in his career against Dickey than any other active hitter. Bourn has hit at a .286 (10-for-35) clip in his career against the knuckleballer.