FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Tampa Bay Rays had a split-squad doubleheader on Tuesday and sent what amounted to a Triple A lineup to JetBlue Park to face the Red Sox. That context is important in evaluating the work of Justin Masterson.
Still, the Red Sox have good reason to think their one-year deal with Masterson will be far more reward than risk.
Masterson retired all nine hitters he faced in the Sox’ 5-1 victory. He struck out four, got four ground balls, and only once was a pitch hit hard. The righthander has thrown five innings this spring and allowed one unearned run on one hit.
“Today was pretty good. We kind of moved it around, making the sinker stay in the middle. A few of the things we worked on,” Masterson said. “It’s what you want to see, the minor things progressing and make them work when you face hitters and that’s what was taking place.”
Masterson is coming off the worst season of his career, an injury-filled jumble that produced a 5.88 earned run average. The Red Sox, who drafted and developed Masterson before trading him to Cleveland in 2009, brought him back believing he could turn it around once healthy.
“Ever since I’ve been down here throwing and working through it, my confidence has been high because everything has been feeling great,” Masterson said. “We’ve been healthy and good things have been there.”
Manager John Farrell sees Masterson having a better understanding of how to attack lefthanded hitters, one of his weaknesses. The pitcher, who turns 30 this month, is poised for a good return.
“I saw more aggressiveness from him today delivering some pitches,” Farrell said. “That’s always the test every spring training when you’re coming off a year like he had. When you start to ramp up the velocity and the intensity, everything is staying together.”
The Red Sox changed the order of their rotation with an eye on how they will open the season.
Clay Buchholz and Rick Porcello remain on the same schedule. But Masterson, Wade Miley, and Joe Kelly have been shifted.
Miley is being dropped back a day and will pitch on Sunday against the Phillies in Clearwater. Masterson will follow him in that game.
By dropping Miley back and presumably moving Masterson up, the Sox can set up their rotation to have Masterson pitch the third game of the season in Philadelphia with Miley facing the Yankees in the fourth game at Yankee Stadium. Kelly likely would then follow.
Miley is the only lefthander in the rotation and it would be preferable to use him in the Bronx given the short porch in right field and the number of lefthanded hitters in the New York lineup.
Farrell said the shift, “gives us an option to make some adjustments by a day or a spot in the rotation as we get further through camp.”
Now Henry Owens, followed by Matt Barnes, will face the Pirates on Saturday. Owens pitched two scoreless innings against the Rays.
Barnes has thrown four scoreless innings in two relief appearances this spring, both at the end of games. Farrell said the plan still is to use him as a starter in Triple A. But the Red Sox are clearly intrigued with the idea of using Barnes as a power arm in the bullpen.
Barnes has shown increased fastball velocity in relief and this season has thrown a better curveball, one with a tighter break. That has become a better secondary pitch than his changeup.
“We still see him as a starting pitcher. We’re still building him up. We’re not eliminating the starting role for him,” Farrell said. “But at the same time, he’s making a good impression [in relief].”
Yankees on tap
The Sox will play two of their next three games against the Yankees. The teams play in Tampa on Wednesday afternoon then at JetBlue Park on Friday night.
The Red Sox are starting Kelly on Wednesday. The Yankees have lefthander Chris Capuano, who started last season with the Sox but was released on July 1.
Former Red Sox reliever Andrew Miller is on the schedule to pitch for the Yankees. The Sox traded Miller to the Baltimore Orioles on July 31 and he signed with the Yankees as a free agent in December.
Beyond Kelly, notable Sox players making the trip to Steinbrenner Field include Mookie Betts, Craig Breslow, Allen Craig, Brock Holt, Daniel Nava, Christian Vazquez, and Brandon Workman.
Disgraced slugger Alex Rodriguez is tentatively scheduled to play for the Yankees.
Pedro in the house
Pedro Martinez was in uniform and on the bench for the game. He is in camp as a special assistant to general manager Ben Cherington. Martinez took the lineup card to first base. The Rays were represented by their Triple A manager, Jared Sandberg. He was 0 for 9 in his career against Martinez and struck out six times