CLEVELAND -- Justin Masterson's 4 2/3-inning cameo on Saturday served as a microcosm for his entire season.
The sinkerballer submitted flashes of ace potential, tallying six strikeouts in the first two frames. But Masterson couldn't make it out of the fifth inning, as he suffered his 14th loss in the Indians' 5-3 defeat to the Tigers at Progressive Field.
Inconsistency has been the right-hander's only consistent trait during the 2012 campaign. One moment, Masterson appears to have turned the page on the persistent problems that have plagued him since April. The next, he seems incapable of escaping the spiral of incongruity that has him sitting at 11-14 with a 4.93 ERA.
"It's been a trying season," Masterson said. "It's been tough in the overall sense. You look at where we are, I haven't done the job that I'm supposed to do. That's what has gotten us to where we're at."
Masterson ascended to the top of the Tribe's rotation last season, when he posted a 3.21 ERA in 33 starts. A lack of run support restricted him to a 12-10 record, but he logged a career-high 216 innings and appeared ready to anchor the staff for years to come.
That hasn't come to fruition. Last season, Masterson pitched six or more innings in 28 of his 33 outings. In one of those starts, a lengthy rain delay limited him to two frames. This year, Masterson has exited prior to the sixth on 10 occasions.
"It has been [inconsistent], even from outing to outing," Indians manager Manny Acta said. "You could see how he can put up a real good outing and then the very next one, he scuffles a little bit."
The Tribe defense didn't offer the right-hander much assistance in Saturday's tilt. Cleveland committed a trio of errors that, combined with Masterson's four walks and six hits allowed, paved the way for Detroit to grab an early 4-0 edge. The offense didn't help while he was in the game either, as Indians batters went hitless until Carlos Santana's triple with two outs in the seventh.
Detroit struck for a pair of runs in the first, benefiting from a two-out error by third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall and an ensuing single by Alex Avila. The Tigers added to their lead when Austin Jackson plated Quintin Berry with a sacrifice fly in the fourth.
"Masterson had very good stuff, but was very inconsistent with his command," Acta said. "That first inning, both walks ended up scoring. We didn't play good defense behind him, but when you create traffic by walking guys, sometimes things happen."
For the Indians, the roads were closed. Right-hander Anibal Sanchez stymied the lineup through 6 2/3 hitless innings. He struck right fielder Shin-Soo Choo in the foot with a pitch to lead off the fourth, Cleveland's only baserunner before the seventh.
"From the third inning, I thought I had a chance," Sanchez said. "Everything's working good tonight. I'm hitting my spots and my ball is moving well, so I think I could do it."
Things fell apart for Cleveland in the fifth. Tigers designated hitter Brennan Boesch scored on an Avila double. When Berry hit a sharp grounder to short, Asdrubal Cabrera misfired on an attempt to throw Avila out at third. As the Detroit catcher continued his sprint to the plate, he apparently missed making contact with third base. With Omar Infante at-bat following a pitching change, Berry tried to make an out on the basepaths before the Indians could appeal Avila's misstep. Cleveland successfully appealed, however, wiping a run off the board.
"We didn't see it right off the bat," Acta said. "Some guys kind of saw it from the dugout. One of our coaches went down to watch the video... We found out through that. The pitching change kind of helped and gave us time to appeal the play."
Miguel Cabrera provided Detroit's fifth run with a 377-foot shot over the fence in right-center field to commence the seventh.
Staked to a 5-0 lead, Sanchez came within seven outs of his second career no-hitter before Santana sprayed a triple over the head of Jackson in deep center. Russ Canzler followed with an RBI double and Chisenhall delivered a run-scoring single to bring the Tribe within three. The Indians tacked on another run in the eighth on Asdrubal Cabrera's two-out RBI single.
The deficit proved too onerous, however, as the Indians fell to 14-17 in games started by Masterson. Since mid-August, he has had outings in which he has yielded zero, one and two runs, and other clunkers in which he has served up six, seven and eight runs.
Saturday's showing offered glimpses at both ends of Masterson's spectrum, as he fanned eight, but needed 105 pitches to labor through 4 2/3 innings.
"It was one of those days," Masterson said.
For the big right-hander this season, no two days have been the same.