April 07, 2015

Justin Masterson is coming off the worst season of his career, and he's now being thrown into a potentially pressure-filled situation in Boston that's likely to come with expectations of both personal and team improvement.

The uniform, however, might bring some comfort.

The right-hander's Red Sox return begins Thursday night in Philadelphia with the Phillies and Red Sox each hoping for a series win.

Masterson began his career in Boston in 2008 and was traded to Cleveland in a deadline deal in 2009. He went from the Indians to St. Louis at the deadline last season, and the change of scenery did him no good, as he finished the season with a 7-9 record and career worsts in ERA (5.88), WHIP (1.63) and walks per nine innings (4.83).

The spring was better after some early struggles, and he concluded with a 3-1 record and 3.52 ERA in six starts. In 23 innings, he walked seven.

"It was a combination of feeling good and feeling strong and, for the most part, hitting my spots," Masterson told MLB's official website. "It is definitely moving in the right direction. I was able to make a few adjustments."

Masterson might not be thrilled with the idea of debuting in Philadelphia, where he allowed five runs in three innings of a 7-1 loss while with St. Louis on Aug. 24.

He'll be opposed by David Buchanan, who's also expected to step up as the Phillies try to get by without Cliff Lee. Buchanan didn't win in the final nine starts of his 2014 rookie campaign, but that had a lot to do with run support as he was 0-3 with a 2.94 ERA. He finished 6-8 with a 3.75 ERA in 20 starts and figured to enter this season as the team's No. 5 starter.

With Lee out and an impressive spring - 3-0 with a 1.29 ERA in four starts and two relief efforts - he was pushed up. Buchanan threw 10 scoreless innings in his final two outings.

"It's exciting, honestly," Buchanan said. "... The first two outings (this spring) I was really trying to prove myself because of what happened last year, ending the year on the team. I was stressing to try to prove myself to get a spot (on the team). I think that's why I wasn't throwing as well."

There could be some pressure on him considering how the Phillies (1-1) are hitting thus far. They won 4-2 Wednesday, but they're batting .145. Jeff Francoeur's three-run home run in the sixth ended up being enough as the outfielder made his first start with his new club. It was his first big league homer in 39 games since June 16, 2013, after he spent much of last season in the minors.

"It was a lot of hard work last year, makes you appreciate being back here and you don't want to miss the opportunity," Francoeur said.

Francoeur was in the lineup instead of Grady Sizemore because he'd had success against Rick Porcello, and he's also 9 for 29 against Masterson while Sizemore is 1 for 9.

Boston (1-1) was unable to come anywhere near following up its five-homer effort in the opener, though newcomer Pablo Sandoval collected his first two hits with the Red Sox. The team is hitting .185, though it has drawn 11 walks to account for a .303 on-base percentage.

The Boston bullpen has yet to allow a hit in four innings.

Philadelphia center fielder Odubel Herrera was out of the lineup Wednesday because of a sore left foot, though he entered as a defensive replacement.

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