Masterson a Francona favorite no more

May, 23, 2011
CLEVELAND -- Imagine Terry Francona's outlook on facing Justin Masterson if he didn't like the guy.

"It's hard not to love him, we all do. But I hope we beat his brains out," Francona said before the former Red Sox right-hander started the opener of a three-game series for the Cleveland Indians against Boston on Tuesday night.

"He's everybody's favorite," Francona added, noting that he has seen a change in Masterson since the big fella became a big part of Cleveland's rotation.

"He's pitching very aggressively, especially against left-handers, and he's always needed to do that. Because he's such an easy-going guy, people don't realize how much he competes -- and he's a competitor."

Masterson anticipates the challenge of facing seven lefties (including switch-hitters) in Boston's lineup. He threw his only career shutout against the Red Sox last June 9, a two-hitter, and is 2-0 with an 0.64 ERA in two starts against them.

"I have a lot of friends over there," Masterson said Sunday. "It will be fun."

Mastering a changeup to go with his fastball and put-away slider has helped Masterson go 5-2 with a 2.52 ERA in nine starts this year for the Indians, who entered play Tuesday with baseball's best record at 29-15, including 18-4 at home.

A three-game sweep of the Red Sox in the season's first week went a long way toward propelling the young Indians. It also put the Sox into an 0-6 hole that they have been clawing their way out of for five weeks.

"When we left here, nothing was going right," Francona said. "Now, it looks like we are winning the close games. Things have settled down nicely."

Boston has won 11 of 14 to improve to 25-21, just a half-game off the AL East lead.

Adrian Gonzalez's hot hitting has led the way. The first baseman went 4-for-4 Sunday night -- his second four-hit game in a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs at Fenway Park. His 65 hits and 41 RBIs lead the majors.

"When you see a really good hitter like Gonzo in the midst of a streak, it is fun to watch," said Francona, who doesn't expect a sudden cold front to hit. "I know he's hot, but it is more than that. He's not going to go away."

On the mend: Bobby Jenks, out since May 2 with a right biceps strain, threw a 25-pitch bullpen session.

"I felt fine," the right-handed setup man said. "Everything was good. We're right on schedule."

Francona said Jenks will throw again before Wednesday's noon matinee and that right-hander John Lackey will test his strained right elbow on Tuesday.

Marco Scutaro, out since May 8 with a strained left oblique, did some light infield work, but Francona said the shortstop is not quite ready to resume hitting. "We don't want to turn him loose until he doesn't feel it -- and he still does," Francona said. "He's not cleared to hit yet. Hopefully by the end of the week."

Francona says some people have a tendency to be a bit too critical of Jed Lowrie's defense as he fills in at short.

""He's been pretty good, very reliable," Francona said. "His foot speed probably is not the best, but he positions himself really well. At the plate, he gives you a professional at-bat every time."



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