FORT MYERS, Fla. — You’re Justin Masterson, the son of a pastor from Indiana, a nice kid with good values. Brought up right. Articulate. Good to people.
You’re 6 feet 5 inches, 250 pounds. You were good enough to be a big-time righthanded pitching prospect after playing for Tony Gwynn at San Diego State.
You became a top minor league prospect in the Red Sox organization.
You worked and worked and finally came up to the majors with the Red Sox when Daisuke Matsuzaka had flu-like symptoms and Bartolo Colon had a bad back in 2008.
You were a reliever at first, establishing yourself in the bullpen, and you had a huge fan in pitching coach John Farrell.
Suddenly, a year later, you were blindsided.
You were traded July 31, 2009 to Cleveland along with Nick Hagadone and Bryan Price for Victor Martinez, but you caught a break — the Indians wanted you to start.
You established yourself as a front-line starter in Cleveland.
You struggled and went 7-20 over a year and half but you started turning it around and built to 2013, when you became the ace of the staff with a 14-10 record and a 3.45 ERA. You had adjusted and readjusted. You’d been hurt by lefthanded hitters, but you finally solved that.
And then, you entered your free agent season. Have a good year and you’ll make a small fortune. Ah, but you suffered injuries, including a torn oblique, and an impingement in your shoulder, and you got traded to St. Louis, which was in the midst of a playoff run. And then your knee started killing you and you had to be shut down.
There went the fortune.
But Masterson, isn’t complaining.
Plenty of teams still wanted him, even with the blemishes and boo-boos. The Red Sox brought him back for 2015, and will pay him $9.5 million in salary and a possible $2.5 million in bonuses if he reaches 185, 190, 195, 200, and 205 innings.
He’ll be 30 when he pitches again in a Red Sox uniform, with enough time to have a good year, re-establish his value, and get that multi-year deal he missed out on this time around.
But to hear Masterson tell it, that isn’t what motivates him.
“I hear people say that to me all the time. Have a good year and you’ll get the big contract, but if I was overly concerned about that yeah, that would be the case,” Masterson (7-9, 5.88 ERA last season) said Tuesday after a workout at the Sox spring training complex at JetBlue Park.
“It’s just more fun when you pitch better and when you’re able to help your team win. That’s what I want to get back to. Last year was disappointing because if the Indians had a healthy Justin Masterson, they might have gotten into playoffs and may have had a whole different ballclub.
“It doesn’t mean I’m not going somewhere else, but as a team you have another guy to get some victories for them and probably going to playoffs. That’s more disappointing. It’s disappointing for me to have disappointed my teammates like that.”
This is all about getting his career back on track.
He’s Boston’s fifth starter right now, but he’s better than that when healthy.
He looked around and was appreciative of being back where he started. Back then the Red Sox had their minor league facility at Edison Avenue in Fort Myers. But he nodded with approval as he looked around the JetBlue facility.
He has been an Indian longer than a Red Sox. He loved his time in Cleveland and didn’t want to leave. Even if he had a great year, the Indians wouldn’t have been able to re-sign him, so he was dealt to the Cardinals at the deadline, but he was too wounded to help.
None of his injuries required surgery. His oblique has healed and the scar tissue has broken up and he now has full range of motion. The impingement and the inflammation in his shoulder is also gone. The knee didn’t have lasting damage.
“It was not fun whatsoever,” he said of his ordeal. “Some of it was my hard-headedness and pig-headedness and not taking care of the things that were going on. You always have something. You’re never 100 percent, so you think you can fight through it and I thought I could. I didn’t do enough after I tore my oblique to get it 100 percent. It turned out to be more than it really was.”
“I didn’t have any rotation in my core and my shoulder so it was tough to get my mechanics right and it showed.
“It was just frustrating not to be able to help either team.”
And so doctors prescribed rest and rehab. He spent the winter with his personal physical therapist, Noah Campbell in Carmel, Ind. He was supervised by the Red Sox. One of the reasons he chose Boston is that his former Indians trainer, Rick Jameyson, is now the Red Sox’ head trainer.
“For a guy coming off injuries like I had, the medical staff and training staff was important to me,” Masterson said. “And I know they had a good one here and people who knew me.”
He felt he was reaching a peak in his career before he got hurt.
“I feel I was getting there,” he said. “I didn’t feel I was at the top of my game. I did well, but there were lots of aspects to get better at. It’s disappointing, but at least I’m just not stinking because I stink. There’s something physical going on in not allowing me to do what I should be doing.
“That’s why I can get back to the form I was before. I learned a lot about myself personally and mechanically as a pitcher through the struggles I went through.”
Masterson indeed started doing better vs. lefties.
“It was just mixing a four-seamer inside and a sinker away,” he said. “Also a slider to the back door — being able to mix and match those pitches helped me have success finally against lefties.”
And Masterson believes he can pick up where he left off.
He came close to going to a couple of other teams he wouldn’t disclose. He said there was frantic ending to the decision. He said there were coin flips involved.
“It was close,” he said. “I love the Red Sox. The other two teams had good things going on with them, too. So it came down to what’s the separator? If it’s only a year, where do you want to be? Could this turn into something bigger? We were flipping some coins at the end. I didn’t know what to do. We were in Cleveland for so long, so in the end we said, we know Boston. We know John Farrell. We know the medical staff. I’m happy with my decision. I feel this is where I belong.”
The Red Sox never wanted to part with Masterson in the Martinez deal. Six years later, they had the chance to bring him back, wounds and all, with the hope that he rises again.