Pitchers realize run support's out of their hands
Masterson, Sanchez focus on their jobs, not what offense does
It became habitual, almost second nature.
Every five days, Indians starter Justin Masterson positioned his 6-foot-6 frame against the pillar near his locker. As a horde of media approached the right-hander, he flashed a smile.
He knew what questions were coming. And every time, he answered the same way, dispelling the notion that he was frustrated by a lack of run support.
"You can't worry about what you can't control," he said.
When it comes to judging pitchers, wins can be a misleading statistic.
Through nine starts, Indians right-hander Ubaldo Jimenez is 5-3 and Marlins righty Anibal Sanchez is 2-3. Their records don't reveal the full story, though.
Run support can mask how a well a pitcher is truly performing. Sanchez tossed quality starts in his first eight outings this year, allowing three earned ones in an appearance just once. (He chucked up his first clunker on Thursday, when he gave up five runs in a 14-7 loss.) The 28-year-old has little to show for his efforts this season, aside from a stellar 2.87 ERA.
"[Sanchez] can only do what he's capable of doing," Miami catcher John Buck said. "I think he knows. He's professional enough, and he's been around long enough to know in order for him to win, he's got to keep doing what he's doing. That's not worrying about getting run support or not, or whatever. It's kind of out of his hands. He needs to keep on doing what he's doing. I think if he does that for the full course of the year, I believe he will be on the better side more than he is not, because he's been pitching really well."
Masterson is no stranger to a lack of offensive backing.
On 12 occasions last season, Masterson tossed a quality start but received either a no-decision or a loss. After May 1, he posted a 7-10 record, despite a 3.39 ERA over that span. The Indians still managed to go 15-13 during those outings, but Tribe relievers earned eight of the victories, instead of the man doing the brunt of the work on the mound.
"It happens to everybody," Masterson said, "where you go out there and maybe give up one but only scored one, so the bullpen gets the win. That's perfectly fine, it's just spreading the love."
Masterson maintained a sunny disposition, even though a lack of run support tainted his numbers. He focuses on what he can control: the opposition's output.
"If you're going out and pitching a good game, giving up two or three runs, that's not too bad," Masterson said. "That puts you in a spot. You did your job. Of course, if you don't give up any runs, you're not going to be happy. But you've done your job. If you let your offense not scoring runs get in your head, then there's an issue because you can't control that. You have to go and continue to do what you can do and things will happen the way they're supposed to happen."
Masterson might be the exception to the rule. Not every pitcher can remain so encouraged while coping with no room for error.
"Every time the guys score for you, it makes it really easy just to go out there and try to execute your pitches and make the hitters swing the bat," Jimenez said. "It's not the same when the game is 0-0 because you have less room to breathe because anything like a home run or anything and you're going to be losing the game."
That's easy for Jimenez to say. The Indians are averaging 5.33 runs in each of his starts. Miami is scoring 3.33 runs in each of Sanchez's outings.
"He might not talk to his teammates," Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen said jokingly after Sanchez took the loss in a 2-0 defeat to Cleveland on Saturday.
Marlins veteran Mark Buehrle has experienced both ends of the run support spectrum during his 13-year career. He noted that sufficient backing can be fool's gold.
"Some days you're going to get it and some days you aren't," Buehrle said. "But if you do get a big lead, you still have to go out there and pitch. You can't get away from the game plan. Especially for me, I'm not an overpowering guy, so I have to use everything. ... I've seen too many times a team have a big lead and the other team comes back."
Though a dormant offense can overshadow a quality pitching performance, it's not as if the hurler's work goes unnoticed. As aggravating as a lack of run support can be for a pitcher, an offensive drought is even more burdensome for the batters.
"It's probably more frustrating to the hitters than to the pitcher because everybody wants to do their job," Jimenez said. "They want to go out there and score runs, but sometimes it doesn't happen. It's the same with pitchers. We want to go out there and put up zeroes, but it doesn't happen every time."
Across the Majors, pitchers like Masterson and Sanchez have to endure stretches of poor run support. It takes an astute athlete to come to terms with the fact that he might have little to no margin for error.
In the end, pitchers can only control the number in the opposition's run column.
"Like I've said before, I don't have a complaint about it," Sanchez said. "I just try to do my job. I just keep pitching and throw the ball down and keep the score. If I allow some runs, I need to keep the score really low, and wait for the hitters to react.
"That happens. That's baseball."