Shaky starts by Justin Masterson, C.J. Wilson don't bode well for contenders
While Jon Lester turned in yet another quality outing in his A’s debut Saturday afternoon, two other contenders received less encouraging results from their Saturday starters, whose appearances were also much-anticipated. Making his debut for the Cardinals after being acquired from the Indians on Wednesday, Justin Masterson was shaky, giving up five runs in six innings only to be bailed out by a nine-run outburst by the Cardinals lineup. Meanwhile, C.J. Wilson returned from the disabled list one day after fellow Angels lefty Tyler Skaggs was placed on it only to experience the shortest rain-free outing of his five-year career as a major league starter.
Wilson had been on the disabled list for an ankle sprain and was also rehabbing a left hip condition that, as he told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday, caused him to lose “total use of my left [back] leg in the delivery. My hip was really messed up. There were some flexibility issues and imbalances. It had the effect of dragging the ball back over the middle of the plate, which is bad. That’s where they hit the ball.”
Wilson clearly felt that was no longer the case in his Double-A rehab start on Monday, in which he allowed two runs in 5 1/3 innings while striking out seven, but the description above would certainly explain his performance against the Rays Saturday night. He lasted just 1 1/3 innings and gave up six runs, two in the first on a two out-walk and subsequent home run by Evan Longoria. Wilson allowed four more in the second before getting the hook having faced 12 batters in the game and retiring just four of them. He didn’t get hit hard in that second inning, but instead walked one and gave up five singles, one of them a well-placed ground ball and two of them bunts Wilson fielded and failed to convert into outs. However, he didn’t get a hitter to swing-and-miss on any of his 50 pitches in the game, and only 54 percent of those pitches were strikes.
In the previous 168 starts of his major league career, including the postseason, only twice had Wilson failed to get a hitter to swing and miss, and only once had he failed to complete at least two full innings. The shortest start of his career came back on May 11, 2012, early in his first season with the Angels, when he faced five Rangers hitters, retiring just one, then had his night ended by a two-hour rain delay. Of the two previous starts in which Wilson failed to get a swing-and-miss, both of which coincidentally came against the Angels, and one was a two-inning tune up for the 2011 playoffs; the Rangers’ 160th game of that season. Wilson threw 38 pitches, didn’t allow a run, and was removed in accordance with Rangers manager Ron Washington’s plan for that game. The other time he failed to get a swing and a miss in a start came on June 27, 2005 in his fifth career game. Wilson gave up seven runs in 4 2/3 innings in that start and struck out no one. He would make just four more starts that season and spend the next four years pitching exclusively in relief.
With Skaggs on the disabled list, the Angels lack rotation depth. Just six men have started for the Angels this year, the five currently in the rotation, including Wilson, and Skaggs. Their Triple-A rotation is full of frightening ERAs, and the organization as a whole is bereft of pitching prospects. Wilson, who has now posted a 12.50 ERA in his last five starts, tweeted after the game that he “will find the groove and turn this around,” but if the issue is health rather than rust, that’s easier said than done. The Angels did well to restock their bullpen before the non-waiver deadline, but they failed to add a starting pitcher. If Wilson doesn’t find that groove in his next start, however, they may have to find help via a waiver trade.
Waiver trades for starting pitchers aren’t particularly common. Outside of the massive salary dump of the Dodgers-Red Sox trade that sent Josh Beckett to the Dodgers in August 2012, the only notable starting pitchers to be traded in August in the last four years have been Joe Saunders and Joe Blanton, who went to the Orioles and Dodgers, also in August 2012, with very different results. The most successful waiver-trade for a starting pitcher in the wild-card era was the Cardinals' acquisition of Woody Williams in 2001, and Williams arrived in St. Louis that year with a 4.97 ERA. One possible target for the Angels could be old friend and recent foe Bartolo Colon, who is pitching well, but is owed $10 million for his age-42 season next year.
As for Masterson, he too came off the disabled list to start on Saturday, but did so with a new team, making his Cardinals debut. Masterson’s outing went better than Wilson’s -- not a high bar to clear -- but still saw him give up five runs in six innings while walking three and striking out just four. Masterson only had one truly shaky inning, that being the fourth when the first two men he faced, Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez, singled, after which Masterson walked Lyle Overbay on four pitches and gave up a two-run double to Scooter Gennett on his next offering. Masterson got the next two men out to end the inning, though one more run scored in the process. Outside of that, a one-out walk came around to score on him in the first, his first major league inning in almost four weeks, and the Brewers manufactured a run against him in the fifth on an infield single, a stolen base, a sacrifice bunt and an RBI groundout. The next batter tripled before Masterson got out of the inning.
Masterson has allowed exactly five runs in four of his last six starts dating back to mid-June. Saturday’s performance, a 9-7 win thanks to the runs the Cardinals scored off Kyle Lohse, raised Masterson’s ERA on the season to 5.63, the fourth-worst mark in the majors among pitchers with 100 or more innings pitched this season (Colby Lewis, Ricky Nolasco and Edwin Jackson being the three pitchers with higher ERAs). Two years ago, in an ostensibly healthy season, he posted a 4.93 ERA for Cleveland, giving him a 4.51 mark over the last three seasons combined, two of which were interrupted by injury. This year, the side-arming righty has been rocked by lefties to the tune of a .332/.423/.521 line. That includes Saturday night’s game in which the three Brewers lefties (Gerardo Parra, Overbay and Gennett) went 2-for-5 with a double and three walks. Simply put, there are numerous reasons to suspect he will not experience the kind of turnaround Williams did in 2001.
The Cardinals do have good reason to expect better from their other deadline addition, John Lackey, who draws the start on Sunday, and can be encouraged by Shelby Miller’s solid return to the rotation over the last week (3.09 ERA, no walks in 11 2/3 innings). However, with Jaime Garcia out for the year, Michael Wacha a month away from a return at best, Joe Kelly on the Red Sox via the Lackey trade, and Carlos Martinez having just been optioned to Triple-A, their vaunted rotation depth has thinned significantly, even with their deadline additions.