Tribe can't follow Masterson's lead
Acquisition proves worth, but bullpen lets game get away
CHICAGO -- Justin Masterson knew his pitch count was approaching its limit on Saturday night. Still, he was dealing and feeling good through four innings, so he decided to ask Indians manager Eric Wedge to let it ride and send him out for the fifth.
Sorry, kid, Wedge told him. Nice job, but no chance.
Masterson gave the Indians exactly what they had hoped for in his starting debut for the team, but Cleveland's beleaguered relievers couldn't duplicate Masterson's efforts, as the Indians fell, 8-5, against the White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field to snap a three-game winning streak.
Masterson, a 6-foot-6 righty who was acquired from the Red Sox just before the non-waiver Trade Deadline expired on July 31, had made 22 relief appearances since his last start on May 17. As a result, the Indians brass made sure to limit his pitch count to no more than 65 throws.
Pitching on a short leash, Masterson certainly showed he was fully capable of being the next addition to the Indians' starting rotation. He tossed 61 pitches in four innings of work, allowing one run on four hits with four strikeouts.
Masterson said he felt no lingering fatigue after his longest outing in nearly three months.
"Actually, I was happy with how I felt at the end," Masterson said. "I still felt pretty strong as the game went on. I got a littler more crisp and felt more comfortable."
Even though Masterson asked, Wedge said he did not seriously consider sending him out for a fifth inning.
"Did I want to?" Wedge said. "Yeah. I most definitely wanted to. But you're not going to put somebody at risk, health-wise, and we're still trying to build him back up from a reliever to a starter. He obviously started earlier this year, but it's been awhile since he's been back at that. We're just trying to build him up the right way."
While pulling Masterson was the logical decision, the Indians (47-63) probably wished he could have thrown a few more innings. Because once he left the ballgame, Saturday's contest unraveled alarmingly fast.
Reliever Tomo Ohka replaced Masterson to begin the fifth inning, with Cleveland holding a 5-1 lead. But Ohka allowed five of the six batters he faced to reach base, and four of them scored. Jim Thome crushed a 1-2 offering from Ohka 442 feet to straightaway center, a two-run shot that scored Gordon Beckham and brought the White Sox within 5-3.
Ohka said he threw Thome consecutive breaking balls. The first one, Thome fouled off. The second one, Ohka wasn't so lucky.
"He's a good hitter," Ohka said, "and I made a mistake two times."
Things did not get any easier for Ohka from there.
Paul Konerko and A.J. Pierzynski each followed with singles. And after a visit from Indians pitching coach Carl Willis, Ohka surrendered a two-run double to Carlos Quentin, which tied the score at 5 and knocked Ohka out of the contest. He gave up four runs in one-third of an inning pitched.
"Ohka just wasn't good today," Wedge said. "He's a guy that has come out in that role before and done a pretty good job for us. He's had some good starts for us, but he just had a bad day today."
The White Sox (57-54) captured the lead for good in the bottom of the sixth, when Beckham's sacrifice fly to center off reliever Jess Todd (0-1) brought in Dewayne Wise from third for a 6-5 edge.
All four Indians relievers who entered the game -- Ohka, Todd, Rafael Perez and Jensen Lewis -- allowed at least one run, and they helped to continue a disturbing trend. The Indians' bullpen suffered its 17th blown save this season, the third-most in the American League. The pitching staff as a whole entered the day with the worst team ERA in the AL at 5.10.
Offensively, the Tribe did produce early, particularly against ineffective White Sox starter Carlos Torres. Cleveland took the lead in the top of the third inning when Jhonny Peralta lined a double to left field, scoring both Asdrubal Cabrera and Shin-Soo Choo to give the Indians a 2-1 lead.
In the fourth inning, Grady Sizemore's groundout to first scored Luis Valbuena for a 3-1 edge. Later in the inning, Cabrera beat out an infield single on a grounder to shortstop, plating Kelly Shoppach to boost the advantage to 4-1.
Torres did not make it out of the fourth inning in his second career Major League start. He walked six batters and threw 72 pitches, just 33 for strikes.
But Cleveland's offensive pop ran out just as quickly as it appeared. The Indians did not score over the game's final four innings and struck out 15 times, stranding 11 runners on base. White Sox long reliever D.J. Carrasco threw 2 1/3 innings between the fifth and seventh frames to pick up the victory (4-1).
Wedge lamented his team's missed opportunities.
"We were patient early," Wedge said. "We finished off innings there in the middle innings to get those five runs, but we let it slip away."
Jesse Temple is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.