The player crushing a batting practice pitch 15 rows into the left-field seats on a picture-perfect night at Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Ballpark may have seemed like a giant among men. But what made the feat so amazing was that the blast didn't come from one of the many veteran sluggers in the park that day -- Ryan Howard, Chase Utley, Pat Burrell, Manny Ramirez, Mike Lowell -- but rather from a little-known pitcher, Red Sox rookie right-hander Justin Masterson.
Though Masterson's batting practice exploits are unlikely to be repeated during game action (he's 0-for-2 in his big league career), he has had immediate success on the mound, going 3-1 with a 2.90 ERA in five starts for Boston this season. In size and personality, the 6'6" Masterson reminds Red Sox Nation of former closer Derek Lowe.
Masterson, a 23-year-old righty, sat down in the visitor's dugout to talk about quality starts, quality teammates and quality coaching from a Hall of Famer.
Holden Kushner: It's got to be a lot of fun up here. Tell me about the atmosphere with so many young pitchers, like Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester, in this organization being successful right off the bat.
Justin Masterson: It's a great atmosphere. It's kind of nice for everyone to see how there's a lot of young guys doing good things and I think that gives encouragement that hopefully if we continue to have this type of success that it will continue on for years to come and all of us being young guys, it would be nice for us to keep winning over a long period of time.
HK: Four of your five starts have been quality starts [at least six innings pitched and no more than three earned runs allowed]. When you take the mound at the beginning of the ball game, what is the goal? What is the first thing to think of once you step up the hill?
JM: The goal is to be consistent and I think the end goal is that you want to be successful but really on each pitch you want to make it your best pitch. I don't think you want to have any type of let down as you're out there and you want to make sure that when you're out there that you're making every pitch a quality pitch to give your team the best chance to win.
HK:Terry Francona is your manager, but a guy that you probably work with a little bit more is the pitching coach, John Farrell. How has he helped you in your limited time up here?
JM: Oh, it's just great. He has such a great understanding of the game and of each individual pitcher for who they are in themselves. It's just great. He helps you work through what you're already thinking about. He has this thoughts but you kind of say "Hey I'm thinking about this" and he's like "Yeah you know, this is what I thought." It's just kind of more of an understanding of who you are as a pitcher and what you want to try and do out on the mound.
HK: Let's talk about your sinker ball. Of course you play for the Red Sox and Derek Lowe is the big name they bring up, but I want you to talk about how you have developed the sinker ball and what makes it effective.
JM: Well really it just kind of came randomly. After the end of my sophomore year of college, I was just throwing and it just started moving. Honestly and truly, I can only say it's God-given. But what really makes it effective is when I get through the pitch and it has a lot of late movement. There are times where it's moving a lot but it's real early and guys can pick that up a little bit better but when it's at it's best is when I'm getting right through it and about the time it's getting to the plate, it's kind of just dropping off the table.
HK:: What does Jason Varitek say to you before a start? How much preparation does he put in and how much does he have to communicate that to you?
JM: He puts in tons of preparation. He is one of the best, if not the best in the game, at taking hitters, breaking them down, and just having a plan of what he wants to do. As a team, we go over the hitters and go through it. He has his ideas and we're pretty much always on the same page and I don't have to shake him off too much, which makes it real nice, not that I would really too much anyway, the way he goes about the game. It's just fun and he really pumps you up and says, "Hey! Do your thing."
HK: I believe it's three times you've been up and down now and Daisuke Matsuzaka's on his way back from a shoulder injury soon. How have you handled that? Going up, down, up, and down again?
JM: It's fun. I couldn't ask for anything better. I'm living the dream, having a great time, having an opportunity to pitch in the major leagues like so many people would love to. Whether it's every day, every other week, every once a month, I don't care, it's just a great time.
HK: Tell me about the experience of playing for one year under Tony Gwynn at San Diego State, some of the things you learned that you can apply in the major leagues.
JM: It was just absolutely amazing. He got in the Hall of Fame and is probably one of the best people as a professional, how he treats people on and off the field, fans, and friends. And (chuckles) just like the sarcastic comments you throw out about "Man I don't think I can hit that sinker of yours," you know, just to give you that extra bit of confidence and it was just an exciting time when I was able to play for him.
HK: Can he still swing?
JM: Absolutely. He's probably still the best.