As the Cleveland Indians begin the 2013 season, there is no question about who is the most important pitcher on the staff. That would be No. 1 starter Justin Masterson, on whom the Indians have quite a bit riding. At the risk of over-dramatizing it, Masterson's season could make or break the Indians' season.
Following an offseason of major (for Cleveland) spending and player acquisition, the Indians feel they have the potential to be a contender. However, the one area of the team that is the biggest concern is the rotation.
As the No. 1 starter, Masterson has all the usual responsibilities. However, with the Indians, the responsibilities are even more complicated, given the many question marks in the rest of the rotation.
The rest of the rotation consists of, in order, Ubaldo Jimenez, Brett Myers, Zach McAllister and Scott Kazmir. Jimenez is coming off another disastrous season; he lost 17 games and led the American League in losses and wild pitches.
Myers was a reliever for Houston and the White Sox last year, but the Indians signed him to be a starter, and club officials hope he can pitch about 200 innings in the middle of the rotation. That may be a lot to ask of a 32-year-old pitcher who pitched just 65 innings as a reliever last year.
McAllister is for all intents and purposes a rookie. He did start 22 games last year for the Indians, but he has yet to pitch a full season at the major -league level.
Kazmir, meanwhile, hasn't thrown a pitch in a big-league game since April 2011, and he hasn't pitched a full season at the major-league level since 2010. For the last two years, Kazmir has battled injuries, and his subsequent ineffectiveness led to him pitching for a team in an independent minor league last year, in hopes of resurrecting his career.
In other words, the rotation is loaded with question marks. After Masterson, the four other starters could have seasons that range anywhere from exciting to excruciating. None are sure things.
Masterson himself is to a large degree a question mark. That's because the Indians don't know whether they are going to get the 2011 Masterson or the 2012 Masterson. There is a huge difference between the two.
In 2011, Masterson was 12-10 with a 3.21 ERA. In 2012, he was 11-15 with a 4.93 ERA. He was the No. 1 starter both years, even if he didn't pitch like it in both years. But as inconsistent as Masterson has been, he still will go into the 2013 season as the closest thing to a true No. 1 starter that the Indians have.
A big year by Masterson would help bring some much needed production and leadership to the rotation. A bad year by Masterson would only add to the woes of a rotation that could potentially have more than its share.