Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Tale of Two Pitchers

For Justin Masterson and Clay Buchholz, when one is having the best of times, the other is having the worst of times. Pitching on Monday, Buchholz and Masterson were again heading in opposite directions. By surrendering four runs to the Chicago White Sox in the first inning, assembling a high pitch count and being forced out after pitching only four innings, Cleveland’s Justin Masterson earned his eleventh consecutive losing decision and extended his winless streak to 16 starts dating back to August 20, 2009. At the same time, in Boston, Buchholz tossed six innings, striking out 8 Tampa Bay Rays and allowing only one run, collecting his 12th win since August 19th of last year.

What makes that situation so remarkable is that two years ago the situation was almost the exact opposite for the former teammates when they were both members of the Boston Red Sox. Clay Buchholz was selected with the 42nd overall pick in the supplemental portion of the first round in the 2005 draft out of Angelina College in Texas and Masterson was selected by the Red Sox a year later with the 71st overall pick in the second round of the draft out of San Diego State.

By spring training of 2007, both Buchholz and Masterson had shown their promise in the Boston farm system and were seen as top prospects in the organization. During the 2007 seasons, both Buchholz and Masterson met and exceeded the organizations expectations, with Masterson earning a promotion from High A Lancaster to AA Portland and Buchholz scaling the organization ladder from Portland to AAA Pawtucket to a late season call-up to Boston. While with the big club, Buchholz showed why scouts were so high on him by throwing a no-hitter against the Baltimore Orioles on September 1 in just his second Major League start.

Entering the 2008 season, Masterson and Buchholz were unquestionably the top two pitching prospects in the Red Sox organization. After his spectacular performance in Boston at the end of the 2007 season, Buchholz was awarded a place in the Red Sox starting rotation on Opening Day while Masterson began the season with the Portland Sea Dogs. From that point, their seasons went in opposite directions. For Buchholz, 2008 could not have been much worse. As a starter for the Red Sox, Buchholz went 2-9, with a 6.75 ERA in 16 games, eventually being demoted all the way back to Portland. In the meantime, Masterson flourished, being promoted directly from Portland to Boston to make an emergency start on April 24 against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Masterson spend most of the rest of the season with Boston, pitching as both a starter and reliever as the team needed him and earning his first postseason win in Game 5 of the 2008 ALCS against the Tampa Bay Rays by pitching a scoreless ninth inning.

In 2009, the positions of Masterson and Buchholz had reversed. While Masterson broke spring training as a member of the Boston Red Sox, Buchholz was assigned to Pawtucket to show that he still had the talent that he had shown in 2007 and made so many fans and scouts believe that he would be a permanent fixture in the Red Sox rotation for years to come. Fortunately, both Masterson and Buchholz started the season off well. Buchholz bounced back from his disappointing 2008 season to dominate International League batters while Masterson was a reliable bullpen arm for the Red Sox. By mid-July, Buchholz earned a promotion back to Boston and showed that he belonged there, finishing the year 7-4 with a 4.21 ERA and 1.38 WHIP. Masterson, on the other hand, was traded, along with top pitching prospects Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price, to the Cleveland Indians in exchange for Catcher Victory Martinez at the trade deadline. Working as a starter for Cleveland, Masterson had a 4.55 ERA in 57 1/3 innings pitched with little run support, going 1-7.

Now, with almost two months of the 2010 season in the record books, Clay Buchholz is on the top of the world while Justin Masterson has struggled to find any success. While Buchholz is making the case that he is the Ace in a rotation that includes Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and John Lackey, Indians Manager Manny Acta has suggested that the Indians may return Masterson to the bullpen in the hope that he can once again find success as a relief pitcher that has eluded him as a starter.

Personally, I hope and believe that Masterson and Buchholz can end their career seesaw routine and both find success as major league pitchers.

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