After struggling through most of April and May, Justin Masterson has begun turning in the type of performance Cleveland fans expected out of their Opening Day starter.
In his last start, the right-hander held a dangerous Angels lineup to just one run on four hits over seven innings despite taking the no-decision. Two weeks earlier, he struck out 10 while tossing seven scoreless frames against the Red Sox. Over his last five outings, Masterson has posted a 3.28 ERA while holding opponents to a .221 average and a .326 slugging percentage.
A big difference for Masterson during that span, pitching coach Mickey Callaway says, has been his ability to remain confident even when he experiences a lapse in location.
"I thought he did a good job letting the ball go," Callaway said of Masterson's last start. "No matter what happened, no matter where the previous pitch went, he came back and threw a good, quality pitch and let it go with conviction."
The Indians will hope that recent consistency continues Tuesday when they begin a two-game road series with the struggling D-backs, who enter the week in fifth place in the National League West.
Arizona's issue this season has once again been subpar starting pitching. The rotation owns a 4.75 ERA, which ranks among the worst in the Majors, and has featured nine different starters.
Southpaw Wade Miley (3-6, 4.62) has not been immune to the team's struggles on the mound. However, like Masterson, he has been effective of late, posting a 4.21 ERA through four June starts while striking out 30 and walking only six. He went 7 2/3 innings against the Brewers in his last outing, allowing three runs and fanning eight batters.
"He's got a nice slider that he buried, and we chased it some," Brewers manager Ron Roenicke said after the game. "But he locates well, and as long as you can get those pitches inside, you're going to be tough to hit."
Tuesday's tilt will mark just the 13th time the Indians and D-backs have met in their history. Cleveland holds a 7-5 overall advantage in the series and is 3-3 when playing at Arizona.
Indians: Santana putting slow start behind him
At the beginning of the season, Carlos Santana was a third baseman and backup catcher for the Indians. But with Lonnie Chisenhall in the midst of a breakout campaign at the plate and Nick Swisher dealing with a lack of productivity, Santana seems to have found a new home at first base.
Since returning from the disabled list June 6, Santana has fielded at first in 14 of his 16 appearances with the Tribe, including Sunday's series finale with the Tigers. He has found his rhythm on offense during that same span as well, going 19-for-57 with five home runs and 12 RBIs.
"Carlos worked really hard [at third base], but what's kind of cool is that I think all the work he put in at third, I think it's made him a better first baseman," Tribe manager Terry Francona said. "He's more active. He's more agile. Again, we'll see where it goes."
D-backs: Goldschmidt on another tear
While pitching has caused many a woe for Arizona, its offensive production has been largely solid this season, with the team averaging four runs per game.
Leading the way so far is first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, who owns a .308/.385/.552 line to go with 15 homers and 52 RBIs on the season. He's been even better in June, going 22-for-68 while drawing 19 walks.
"Obviously he's really good," Callaway said. "I think Masty will match up good, sink him down and in. The movement Masty gets, it's one of the best sliders in baseball, so I think that will be a good matchup."
• The Tribe enters this series with a 5-4 record in Interleague Play this season, while Arizona is 3-4 in those matchups.
• Perhaps it is no coincidence that Masterson's recent success has coincided with a string of home starts: He is 3-1 with a 3.54 ERA when pitching at Progressive Field but has a 6.20 ERA in eight road games this season.
Alec Shirkey is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.