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July 23, 2007 at 6:36 PM

12 Questions with Justin Masterson

Portland SP Justin Masterson recently took some time out of his road trip to respond to some questions from Mike Andrews of SoxProspects.com. Justin devoted a substantial amount of time to answering our questions, so big props to the big righty. As of July 23, the 2006 2nd round draft pick is 3-0 with a 0.47 ERA, 22 strikeouts and only five walks since making his AA debut ealier this month.

SP: You pitched in the Cape Cod League in 2005. How did the CCL help your game and did you come away with any impressions of Red Sox Nation during your time on the Cape?

JM: The Cape Cod League was a real big confidence booster if anything for me. I got there in a round about way, that only the hand of the Lord could be in, and was only there as a temporary player, but then I did well enough that they signed me on for the long haul as a closer. It let me know that the stuff that I had could play well against the best talent in the country. I also refined my sinker and was able to get a slider under my belt at the same time. I had never really followed the Red Sox, but being on the Cape I started to understand that Red Sox Nation is pretty extreme and they LOVE their Red Sox. Maybe even sometimes a little to much, haha.

SP: During your time at San Diego State, to what extent did Tony Gwynn help you understand how hitters approach their at bats?

JM: The whole coaching staff at San Diego State had a large impact on how to approach hitters. Rusty Filter, my pitching coach there, was always offering advice as did our assistant Mark Martinez. As far as Coach Gwynn, after practice or just at times he would talk about how he approached hitting. By listening when he would talk to our hitters, I could hear his approach. It was more of just trying to pick up everything I could from everyone to get a better understanding of what I knew from being a hitter myself to what one of the greatest hitters in history thinks. It's hard to always put words to all that is learned but it was and is a great asset to have in my life. Tony Gwynn is a great man on and off the field.

SP: You were drafted in the 2nd round in 2006. Was that about where you expected to be drafted? Did you have a lot of contact with other teams during the draft process? What impressions did the Red Sox make on you during the process?

JM: Coming into the draft I didn't have a whole lot of expectations. I was hoping to go high just like every other person who was waiting to be drafted. But a lot of it was out of my hands, not under my control. I knew that God's hand was in it, and all and I could just rely on him. I had done all that I could and the final decision would be made by the teams. But I didn't have a whole lot of contact with many teams, although my agent, Randy Rowley, was in contact with some teams and making sure everything was running smoothly. I honestly wasn't worried about anything, I was just looking for an opportunity, I didn't care who it was with. I'm not in it to get rich, but to play a game that I love and to meet so many new people. Then came the call from Dan Madsen, my Red Sox scout. I was unsure who it was at first, but I didn't care. A good offer was made at the get go and I was ready to get my pro career underway. The Red Sox were good to me in the process, made me feel good, and I felt like I was going to be a steal for them in the 2nd, at least that was my motivation.

SP: You dominated in a short stint with Lowell in 2006. Was the transition to the pros easy for you? What was it like pitching in front of the Fenway crowd for the Spinners last August?

JM: Lowell was a great time and great place to play. Some of the great fans of Red Sox Nation are up in Lowell. I was excited about the transition because of the beauty of wood bats - movement is a lot more effective when wood bats are added into the picture. I felt the transition was not too difficult - I had been preparing myself for a long time. My dream since I was in kindergarten has been to play Major League Baseball and I knew this was the first step. But the Fenway game was amazing. Best crowd I've ever played in front of and it was electric. Honestly, when I went out to pitch I lost track of where I was. I get so much in the zone that I didn't even realize how big a stage that it actually was. It was amazing, just a great appetizer that has left me with a hunger to try and get back there as a mainstay.

SP: What goals did the organization set for you at the beginning of the season? What goals did you set for yourself?

JM: The goals for this season were simple - get accustomed to the life and long season as a starting pitcher, while also continuing to work on and develop my sinker, slider and change up. My personal goals were very simple too - work on being consistent and hopefully, though it's out of my control, get the call up to Double A at some point.

SP: How did playing in Lancaster make you more prepared as a pitcher? Do you think that experience is generally a good thing for a pitcher?

JM: In Lancaster I learned a lot about myself mechanically, physically, and mentally. Things I probably would have learned no matter where I was starting, but were made larger in the picture due to the surroundings. But it gave me a very confident attitude and the ability to not worry about what I can't control. In all truth, I never felt that I pitched horrible, but there was still room to improve and there still is. But it showed that you can make the perfect pitch, have a hitter miss-hit the ball, and still have it travel over the outfield fence for a home run. If you were not mentally sound when you went out there, you definitely learned how to be by the time that you left. Although it might skew numbers in both directions, I enjoyed the experience and thought it did well for me. It gave me the sense that if I can be successful in Lancaster, I can be successful anywhere.

SP: Describe the feelings you had during that July 4th playoff game. What was it like to be given the start in a winner-take-all environment? Would you say that you thrive on that pressure?

JM: Well first off, I didn't feel as much pressure as I did the last game of the first half which we had to win in order to even have the July 4th game. Plus, with that game we had lost two in a row rather than the big win streak that we went on after the All Star break. But I absolutely loved it. I can't say that I'm always successful in big games, but I love to be in them. I love knowing that everyone is counting on you and you'll be the hero or the goat. I know every other pitcher on the team would have loved to been in that position and would have done great, but I got the nod and I was pumped. But you have to treat it like another game, because to be successful you have to control that emotion and that's the most fun - the mental battle that takes place.

SP: Most players say that the jump from A ball to Double-A is the most difficult for a player coming up through a team's farm system, but you’ve shown great success right out of the gate. What are your first impressions of pitching in High-A vs. AA? Of pitching in Lancaster vs. Portland?

JM: It's definitely true that the talent improves as you move. Most of all, the hitters in Double-A look to make adjustments at the plate a little quicker than at the lower levels. The trick is to make the adjustments with them. But what I've learned this year with the staffs in Lancaster and up in Portland is that I didn't need to do anything MORE when I moved up to Portland, but rather continue. Continue to be consistent, continue working on command. And as I've found out there is much truth to that. The hardest thing is mentally being able to deal with things, the fans, new team, new clubs you've never faced, and adversity within games themselves. Although I've done well there have been times when guys have got on base and keeping them from scoring felt better than having a quick one two three inning. I'm not sure if the ball moves a little more out here, but God has blessed with me a pitch and it continues to bode well for me.

SP: OK, now on to the nitty gritty – we’ll ask you to give a scouting report on yourself. What pitches do you have in your repertoire? At about what speeds and how often do you throw those pitches? What do you consider your out pitch?

JM: Well, my scouting report is simple. I am a sinker, slider, change up guy. My sinker is used most often and to add to its effectiveness I vary the speeds up a bit. This year they have ranged in a singular game from 84-94. Then I have the slider which is a great compliment to my sinker and comes in around 80-83. I finish it off with a circle change at about 77-81. My out pitch is my sinker, but I also enjoy mixing in the slider and change to finish someone off just the same. I am always working to be consistent and control the strike zone which allows me to be effective.

SP: What pitch have you improved the most this season? How is your change-up coming along? At this stage of the season, what parts of your game are you looking to improve to take it to the next level?

JM: Right now I think that all my pitches have improved this season. The change up is great and has been all year, the only problem is that there are not a lot of opportunities to throw the pitch. Which as we continue more opportunities will arise, but at this point we are trying to force feed the change up a little bit. I have total confidence and feel that I can throw it for a strike whenever I need too. At this stage I am looking to continue to be more consistent, and that's the name of the game. I need to continue to not try and do too much mechanically and let my pitches do the work like they are supposed to. It sounds simple - it is but it isn't, because the body always wants to try and do more.

SP: Have there been any further discussion on Justin Masterson remaining a starter or moving to the bullpen since last year? Which spot do you personally prefer?

JM: I haven't had ANY discussions since I've been in the organization about it. I've just gone along with what they have told me. I don't have a preference whatsoever. It was once told to me that starters make more in the Majors, but then again it's not about the money to me, it's about getting there and playing the game. There are so few who actually get that opportunity but would love to do it for free. I love both. I like starting and being the workhorse and knowing which day that I'm throwing, allowing me to prepare for a few days. But just the opposite, I like relieving in knowing that you could pitch any day and always have to be ready to go - it very well could be in a tense situation when you need to command the zone and get that double play ball or that strikeout.

SP: Who of your teammates have impressed you the most this season?

JM: Wow, such a hard question to answer because there have been so many guys who have done so many good things this year on both of the clubs that I have been on. Since I was in Lancaster the longest I'll go with that. First off, Michael Bowden continues to impress me with not only his pitching ability but his maturity on and off the field, a true testament to his mother. But honestly, most of the guys in Lancaster have impressed me this year, which is shown by how well the team has done this year. Ryan Khoury has always had a great glove, but he's shown a great hitting ability this year. Zach Daeges has done great hitting, but also shown athleticism by playing multiple positions. TJ Large has been a good anchor in the bullpen with his great cutter along with Chad Rhoades as a closer who throws gas with a dirty split. Aaron Bates has continued his greatness at the plate but has also greatly improved his first base skills. Scott White has impressed me with his third base skills and also showed improvement with each day at the plate. And talk about battling - Kris Johnson and Michael Rozier have turned around and put up great numbers and are doing awesome. And lest we forget Kevin Guyette and his dirty curveball. But as I said the whole team has impressed me, even if I haven't said every name. This is a great organization filled with great talent - maybe too much, haha.