Justin Masterson

Sunday's Red Sox-Rays matchups: Justin Masterson vs. Chris Archer

June 28, 2015 - 4:05 am
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Justin Masterson will make his first major league start since May 12 on Sunday, facing one of the AL's best in Chris Archer as the Red Sox take on the Rays at Tropicana Field to close out their three-game set. With Joe Kelly sent down to Triple-A, the Red Sox chose Masterson to take his place in the rotation over right-handed knuckleballer Steven Wright. On Kelly's demotion, Red Sox manager John Farrell deemed it a matter of fine-tuning his pitch command. "The options would have been put him in the bullpen or send him down to start," Farrell said. "This centers around consistent command with the baseball and his pitches. It's certainly not stuff, it's not athleticism. The frustrating part for Joe and for all involved is that when you see an athlete with his ability and it doesn't translate to the consistent command of his pitches, that's what is continually being addressed." Masterson will make his return to the big leagues on the heels of a long stint on the disabled list for right shoulder tendinitis. Although that issue was cited as the cause for his 2-2 record and bloated 6.37 ERA, many pundits have speculated that injury is not the reason for Masterson's early season woes. More practically, one need not look further than his 57 percent strike rate to locate the cause of his problems: command. The 6-foot-6 righty has lost much of the control that earned him a bid to the 2013 All-Star team. Opponents have slashed a whopping .286/.388/.479 against Masterson this year, comparable numbers to 2013 NL MVP Andrew McCutchen, who's slashed .295/.382/.490. Masterson's 1.05 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio is his worst since his age-24 season mark of 1.04, a definitive red flag for a sinkerballer. Meanwhile, the former Indian is allowing career-highs in extra-base hits (10.3 percent) and line drives (29 percent), while striking out a career-low 14.6 percent of batters. Masterson will begin the road to recovery Sunday against a Rays team that has tagged him for a 6.93 ERA in 15 career meetings. On the flip side, Archer will look to continue his blistering start to 2015 and lend further credence to his MVP consideration. Archer is 9-4 and leads the AL with a 2.01 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP. Quite simply, the 26-year-old has blossomed into a phenom. He is having a career year, and in large part the leap can be attributed to one pitch -- his slider. The North Carolina native increased his slider usage from 10.7 percent in 2014 to 39.8 percent in 2015. The pitch also emerged 1.7 mph faster, from 86.1 to 87.8. This increased velocity and usage has resulted in pure dominance. Against Archer's slider, hitters are batting just .162 and slugging .214, and he has drawn ground balls on 59 percent of the balls put in play off of it. Additionally, Archer's new toy has helped him punch out 10.75 batters per nine innings, the third-best proportion in the AL. "I don't think baseball has ever seen this pitch before," Archer's former teammate David Price said. "It's the best pitch in baseball by far. Chris Sale has an unbelievable slider and changeup, and Felix [Hernandez's] changeup is phenomenal, and [Clayton] Kershaw's curveball is really good. But if anybody in baseball could have one pitch, it's got to be Archer's slider." Across the board, Archer has been stellar, accumulating a paltry 2.23 FIP along with AL-leading marks in ERA-plus (194) and Pitcher WAR (3.5). Somehow in the month of June he has managed to outdo himself, going 4-0 with a 1.80 ERA and a .209/.233/.279 opponents' slash line. Furthermore, in 35 innings of work, he's struck out 41 batters while walking just four, good for a K/BB ratio of 10.25. During Archer's four-year career he has gone 1-5 against the Red Sox with a 5.18 ERA. However, with a revamped, deadly pitch in his arsenal, Archer will be among the toughest matchups of the year for Sox hitters. Red Sox vs. Archer (RHP) David Ortiz (20 plate appearances): .333 AVG/.400 OBP/.500 SLG, 1 HR, 8 RBIs Mike Napoli (14): .083/.214/.083, 7 strikeouts Brock Holt (11): .273/.273/.364, 1 double, 2 strikeouts Jackie Bradley (7): .167/.286/.167, 3 strikeouts Mookie Betts (6): .400/.500/1.000, 1 HR, 4 RBIs Alejandro De Aza (6): .333/.333/.833, 1 HR, 2 RBIs Pablo Sandoval (6): .167/.167/.167 Xander Bogaerts (5): .000/.200/.000, 4 strikeouts Hanley Ramirez (3): .667/.667/.667 No other Red Sox have faced Archer. Rays vs. Masterson (RHP) Evan Longoria (29): .320/.414/.600, 2 HR, 7 RBIs David DeJesus (16): .308/.438/.615, 1 HR, 1 double, 3 RBIs, 3 walks Asdrubal Cabrera (7): .429/.429/.714, 1 triple Joey Butler (3): .333/.333/.333, 2 RBIs Logan Forsythe (3): .500/.667/.500, 1 RBI Kevin Kiermaier (3): .000/.667/.000 Brandon Guyer is 1-for-1 with a double against Masterson in two plate appearances. Rene Rivera is 0-for-1 with one walk and one strikeout against Masterson in two plate appearances. No other Rays have faced Masterson.