Justin Masterson is excited to be in Cleveland. Acquired by the Indians in the deal that sent Victor Martinez to Boston at last summer’s trading deadline, the 6-foot-6 Beavercreek, Ohio native is not only pitching closer to home, but he also has a chance to become a mainstay in the Tribe’s starting rotation. The 24-year-old right-hander has made 53 of his 78 big-league appearances out of the bullpen, but on a staff that lacks front-line starters, his power sinker just might be a perfect fit. Masterson talked about leaving behind old friends, as well as his early impressions of his new team, on the final weekend of the 2009 season.
David Laurila: How did you find out about the trade?
Justin Masterson: Shoot, I just got called in a little early, because they thought some stuff had gotten leaked. We were in Baltimore when it took place. I got called in, and Tito (Red Sox manager Terry Francona) and (pitching coach) John Farrell were there, and they said that stuff had leaked out but that there was nothing going on yet. It was, “There might be a trade and there might not. We just wanted to let you know. Your name’s out there.”
DL: Had you heard anything prior to that?
JM: No, I hadn’t heard a thing whatsoever. Of course, everyone’s a possibility when it comes to trade talks, but I hadn’t heard my name out there and didn’t expect it. Then, half an hour later, I got called back in and it was like, “Yeah, it’s official. You’ve been traded to the Cleveland Indians.” (Red Sox general manager) Theo Epstein called Tito’s phone and talked to me and just let me know. Then it was just kind of like, “Whoo, okay.” A few emotions set in, and Tito said, “Man, I’m not going to say too much,” because tears were going to start coming. He’s just such a caring individual; guys are more than just players to him. He’s got that little-especially with young players-father mentality of trying to help build them up, and raise them up, to be quality men and ballplayers. So it was kind of nice, in one sense, to see the reaction of how much I mattered, but then it was, “Whoo, all right,” because it was a whole new ballgame, a whole new scenario, a whole new everything. It was just kind of a little whirlwind for a while.
DL: How did your teammates find out?
JM: I told them. They saw me walk into the office, then I walked out and everybody was kind of looking at me. I kind of had that look on my face, like not so good. It was like, “I got traded,” and, “Really?” I said, “Yep.” Then I just went around giving a bunch of hugs. There’s not much more that you can do. It’s a part of the game and it happens quite often, but for me, it was my first time, so there was probably more emotion to it. Then it was like, “Here comes the media!” So, I had to take a little breather for a while and call my wife to make sure that she was OK. She was taking it a little hard, because she had some good things going (in Boston). It’s almost harder on the family than it is on the player, because when I move, I’m getting plugged into a new team; I’m getting plugged into these new guys, where we have a common togetherness of being on the Indians, while she’s coming into a new situation, with new wives, and a new area. She has to kind of fend for herself and figure it out. That’s one of the things that you don’t really think about until it happens, and it can kind of be a little draining to make sure that your family is taken care of.
DL: Having grown up in Ohio, to what extent was the trade, “I’m going home”?
JM: Yeah, it was good and bad. It was good that we were going back, closer to home, so especially if we were going on a road trip, her family is close, my family is close. Everyone is close. Her friends. But then it’s kind of like, OK, sometimes it’s a little overwhelming when more people are trying to come to games on my starts and they want to say hi, or this or that. Honestly, what was good at Fenway was that we had learned how to balance out who we’d hang with and when we had time to do this and that. So when we got to Cleveland, it made it a little bit easier, but more people wanted to come out. But it was nice to come here, because it’s a team that has a lot of young guys who have a lot of potential. Of course, potential could mean nothing, because you might not reach your potential and you’ll be terrible. But I think that there are a lot of good things that are going to take place, and that’s where there’s a lot of excitement. When I got here, we were winning a bunch of games, and then we went on a little losing streak which was kind of, “Let’s get ready for next year.” But it was still nice to come to a good clubhouse, and all the people in Cleveland are nice.
DL: At the time of trade, there were already rumors that manager Eric Wedge would be fired, which he was. What was it like coming into a situation like that?
JM: When I left, Tito and John Farrell were saying how the guys I was going to meet here are really good guys. It was like, “If you think we’re good, wait until you get there. You may change your opinion.” But getting here… I hadn’t even followed any of that speculation. So, I got here and it was like, “Uh, OK. So, I’m coming into a new situation, and quite possibly there may be a new manager coming in.” It was different, but it was another one of those things like, “Well, I just got traded, so I think I’ll be able to handle whatever is coming this way next.”
DL: From the short time you were around him, how would you describe Wedge?
JM: I’d say that he has a quietness, but an intensity and a desire for guys to be successful. He’s not going to jump up in your face, but he wants you to get the job done. You’re here and you should know what to do, so let’s do it. He’s a good guy. And I think he’s developed over the years and it might be one of these situations where he’s going to go to another place and probably have great success. It’s almost like you get to move to a new place and have. … I wouldn’t say, necessarily, a new identity, but you’re not held to old standards, and you can really just come in and be a new man.
DL: How would you describe Farrell?
JM: I’ll tell you, he’s a man who does his homework. He knows a lot about the game, he’s very intelligent, and he’s a big old boy! They called him “The Big Rig” back in the day, and he is. But he’s a good communicator, and he just really understands the details of the game. I mean, what talks big about him is that he was the farm director in Cleveland and then he comes to be a pitching coach in Boston, and he’s been very successful at running a pitching staff in a place where everything is really scrutinized, and that’s not always an easy thing to do. I know that, just like anyone, he always has aspirations to continue to move up, whether that will be this year, next year, or another year.
DL: In Boston, you were throwing to Jason Varitek, a 12-year veteran. Here, you’ve been working with much younger catchers. What has that transition been like?
JM: Behind the plate, there is always stuff you can work on as a young guy. Even with Jason, he developed over the years, but the brain had always been there. And what’s great is that the young guys we have coming up are very intelligent behind the dish. They take the time to read the hitters and to understand, kind of, who each pitcher is and how they want to go about it. It’s a dual effort, where the pitcher is coming in and saying, “OK, this is what I like to do,” so we’re learning together. And it’s a different dynamic when not only are you just coming in, they’re trying to get accustomed to the big leagues and to new pitchers, and knowing how guys hit, and how big leaguers go about it, and just all of these things. But it’s been a fun transition for the couple of months that I’ve been here. And not that they haven’t earned it, but being in the position that we are, a lot of the younger guys have gotten some more playing time, and I think that’s been very beneficial for them.
DL: What are your early impressions of Lou Marson, one of those young catchers?
JM: Lou’s a young talent coming up. There are small, refining things that will continue to help him as he goes about, and we’ve talked. Shoot, these young players that are coming up through the system are quality individuals, and that’s part of the excitement I get when I think about Cleveland. You can go from a contender to a non-contending team, but what’s exciting is that the rebuilding team has a lot of pieces to put in place. Like this year: They didn’t perform, but if we can perform like we’re supposed to and just do what we’re supposed to do, good things can happen. Of course, it’s big having a good catcher, but they’ve all done a good job.
DL: Indians fans only got to see you for two months this summer. Did they see the real Justin Masterson?
JM: You know, they got little bits and pieces, here and there. One, they’re catching me at a time where I’m transitioning back to starting, within a season, where I’ve already made a transition from relieving to starting, back to relieving, and back to starting again. That’s different, and while it’s doable and nothing that hasn’t been done before, we were even tinkering with some routine things, and this and that, just to make sure that I know how to be a good starting pitcher. So, I’d say at the end of the year, for my final start, they really got a taste of, hopefully, what is to come. I was able to throw a complete game, with 12 Ks, so they haven’t really seen all of what Justin can do, but they’ve seen bits and pieces in a few games that have been pretty good. I’m pretty excited about what I think I can accomplish next season. Actually, I’m pretty excited about what we can accomplish as a team.