PHILADELPHIA — Had Justin Masterson come up through another organization, the Red Sox might not have been so willing to take a chance on him.
But they drafted Masterson in 2006, developed him, and saw him contribute important innings to a playoff team two years later. Only grudgingly did they trade the tall righthander to the Cleveland Indians in 2009.
So when Masterson entered the free agent market last winter, the Sox were willing to overlook the 5.88 earned run average he had with the Indians and Cardinals. They also trusted that the rehab work he did all winter portended a return to better health.
Signing Masterson to a one-year deal was an acceptable risk given all they knew about him.
On Thursday night, Masterson made a successful return to the Red Sox, pitching six strong innings and contributing to the offense in a 6-2 victory over the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Sox took two of three in the series. They are 10-1-2 in series against the Phillies since 2004.
In his first appearance for the Sox since 2009, Masterson allowed two runs on three hits over six innings. He walked two, struck out seven, and went 2 for 3 with an RBI.
Maybe not the hitting, but everything else was what the Sox thought Masterson was capable of.
“He’s pitched in this environment. He knows what Boston is about,” manager John Farrell said. “Provided that all the physical due diligence that we did checked out, we felt it was a good investment to make.
“Two years ago this was an All-Star starter. We felt like it was a good bet to have a bounce back.”
Masterson’s career has been built on his sinker. But against the Phillies, he showed a good slider and four-seam fastball.
“The slider was good. Mixing up speeds with the fastball. That’s going to be the key to success for me at all times, being able to mix in a good amount of sliders for strikes,” Masterson said.
Catcher Ryan Hanigan, who has called three strong games, stayed on Masterson to keep throwing the slider.
“It’s big,” Hanigan said. “He wasn’t just throwing it for strikes. He was hitting corners and expanding the zone when he needed to. He can do different things with it.”
Craig Breslow, Tommy Layne, and Edward Mujica finished off the Phillies, who scored six runs in the three-game series. The Sox bullpen has pitched seven scoreless innings.
The Sox scored six runs in the third inning against Philadelphia starter David Buchanan without really hitting the ball well.
It started with two outs when David Ortiz (1 for 2, two walks) reached on a single against a defensive shift. Second baseman Chase Utley, playing short right field, had a play on the ball but couldn’t get Ortiz in time.
Hanley Ramirez followed with a ball up the middle that Buchanan knocked down but threw wildly past first base. That moved Ortiz to third and Ramirez to second.
Pablo Sandoval walked to load the bases. Shane Victorino’s ground ball to the left side was stopped behind the bag by third baseman Cody Asche but not in time to prevent a run from scoring.
Hanigan walked on four pitches to force in a second run. Xander Bogaerts, who has been out of synch at the plate going back to the middle of spring training, dropped a popup down the right-field line that rolled away for a three-run triple.
It was the second triple in 590 career at-bats for Bogaerts.
Masterson was up next and he drove in Bogaerts with a single to center field. It was the first RBI for a Red Sox pitcher since John Lackey against the Phillies in 2011.
Ahead, 6-0, Masterson had a sloppy bottom of the third inning as two singles, two walks, and a wild pitch gave the Phillies two runs. The 32-pitch inning kept him from going deeper into the game.
Masterson pitched well after that, allowing only one hit over his final three innings. He retired the final eight batters he faced.
“This is what we’re working toward,” Masterson said. “It’s just the precipice. Just the beginning of it, trying to continue to get better, get stronger and have games like this and even better.”
Masterson had his second hit in the fifth inning, a single to third base that he beat out. It was the first two-hit game of his career. He is the first Red Sox pitcher since Josh Beckett in 2006, also against the Phillies, to have two hits and an RBI.
“You get lucky out there. That’s not skill, that’s just luck,” Masterson said.
Through three games, Red Sox starters have allowed five earned runs on 12 hits over 19 innings. Wade Miley is next up, facing the Yankees on Friday night.
“They’ve gone and stayed in command of the strike zone for the most part,” Farrell said. “Put the ball on the ground, which we anticipated with the style of guys we have.”
Said Masterson: “It’s a neat testament of the team that we have right now. Even though it’s been three short games, the pitchers have been doing great, offense has been great. You saw some power in the first game and now you saw being able to take advantage, work the count and take some walks . . . I’ve been really impressed with our team so far.”