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He left ex-teammates with a sinking feeling

Cleveland’s Justin Masterson was brilliant last night, inducing 18 ground ball outs and fanning six to earn the shutout. Cleveland’s Justin Masterson was brilliant last night, inducing 18 ground ball outs and fanning six to earn the shutout. (Tony Dejak/Associated Press)
By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / June 10, 2010

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CLEVELAND — Red Sox manager Terry Francona made sure to spend time talking with Indians righthander Justin Masterson during batting practice on Tuesday.

Masterson spent parts of two seasons with the Sox before he was traded to Cleveland last July, and was popular within the clubhouse.

“He’s such a good kid. He’s as solid a kid as you’re ever going to find,’’ Francona said. “That’ll never change.’’

But business is business.

“I told him I hope we beat his brains out and then after we leave I hope he wins every game he pitches,’’ Francona said.

Masterson confirmed the details of the conversation a day later. Then he smiled.

“Sometimes I’m just not very good at listening,’’ Masterson said.

Masterson pitched the best game of his career last night against Francona and the Sox, throwing a two-hitter in an 11-0 victory for the Indians. He struck out six, walked two, and used his sinking fastball to induce 18 groundball outs.

Facing one of the more patient teams in baseball, Masterson needed only 110 pitches for his first career shutout.

“Justin was fantastic,’’ Cleveland manager Manny Acta said.

Masterson was 0-5 with a 6.13 ERA in his first nine starts, but Acta resisted calls to move the 25-year-old to the bullpen. When the Indians obtained Masterson and two other pitching prospects from the Sox last season in exchange for catcher Victor Martinez, it was with the intent of using him as a starter.

The Red Sox pondered the same question but had the pitching depth to use Masterson out of the bullpen. Cleveland does not have that luxury.

“He’s a kid you want to be patient with,’’ Acta said. “He has the stuff to do it.’’

Last night was further evidence that the Indians made the right decision. Masterson has allowed only four runs in his last 21 1/3 innings since making a adjustment in his delivery with the position of his hands.

“You get excited about it because I’m feeling better on the mound,’’ he said.

The Sox paid the price, as they were unable to get a runner to second base and over nine innings only five balls made it out of the infield. Martinez and J.D. Drew had the only hits.

Acta was worried Masterson would overthrow against his former teammates early in the game. But he retired the side in order in the first inning on 10 pitches and put only one runner on base through the first four innings.

“You have David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and J.D. Drew, all quality individuals and people I enjoyed. After that first inning, you just get in the habit,’’ Masterson said. “I talked to them a lot [Tuesday] and that got it out of the way. They’re all good guys. But for me, you’re playing the game and it’s go time once you get out there.’’

The Red Sox, knowing Masterson often struggles against lefthanded batters, configured their lineup accordingly. But their four lefties and the switch-hitting Martinez were 2 for 14 with five strikeouts. Masterson, whose primary pitch is the sinker, used his slider to keep the lefties off balance.

“Being able to get the slider in and busting some [fastballs] in and keeping their head in there, making them continue to be wary of something that could come inside,’’ he said. “What helped also was the movement of the sinker.’’

Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz was solid, allowing three runs over seven innings. But the night belonged to Masterson.

“He’s got the build and the makeup to go out there and do that,’’ Buchholz said. “He’s got good stuff. He’s had an up-and-down road the last couple seasons. This might get him going on the right track. I wish the best for him. Just not whenever we’re playing him.’’

Francona tried that and it didn’t work. Cleveland has four games in Boston starting Aug. 2.

“I loved playing there,’’ Masterson said. “It would be fun to pitch in Fenway again.’’

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