Cleveland Every fifth day, Indians manager Terry Francona knows he’ll get innings, maximum effort and nothing but smiles from his No. 1 starter.
And he usually gets something more important from Justin Masterson — a win.
“There’s an expectation,” Francona said. “He’s earned that.”
Masterson managed to hang around for 61⁄3 innings and win for the sixth time at home, leading Cleveland to a 6-3 victory over the Kansas City Royals on Wednesday night.
Masterson (9-5) sidestepped trouble in the first few innings without giving up any runs and improved to 6-1 with a 2.29 ERA in nine starts at Progressive Field. The affable right-hander struck out eight while allowing two runs and nine hits.
Only Detroit’s Max Scherzer has more wins in the AL than Masterson, who has been one of the few constants on a streaky Indians squad.
“On the day he pitches, we feel pretty good,” said Francona, who managed Masterson in Boston. “He’s earned that, for us to feel that way. His consistency with his stuff this year has been tremendous and we always know about his willingness to compete. It’s fun to watch.
“I’ve got to try not to get caught up in how fond I am of him when he’s pitching because when he comes off I’m always smiling at him. It’s hard not to.”
Michael Brantley hit a pair of solo homers and drove in three runs for the up-and-down Indians, who moved within 31⁄2 games of first-place Detroit in the AL Central. Mike Aviles drove in two runs and Michael Bourn scored twice for Cleveland, which has won six of eight after dropping eight in a row.
Unable to get a hit for four innings off Luis Mendoza (2-4), Brantley homered in the fifth and the Indians added three runs in the sixth. Brantley connected again in the eighth.
The Royals won the series opener, but dropped the final two and made some critical mistakes that cost them.
“We feel we gave one away last night,” Kansas City manager Ned Yost said. “Tonight was a different story. They just beat us.”
Masterson, as close to an ace as the Indians have in their rotation, is 5-0 in his last six starts at home and has won nine of his past 13 decisions in Cleveland.
It wasn’t a certainty he would survive the first few innings as the Royals put two runners on in the first and second but failed to score. Kansas City stranded eight runners in the first five innings and Masterson got a big defensive play by first baseman Mark Reynolds to get out of a pickle in the fourth.
Masterson was lifted in the seventh, and although he was far from dominant, Indians fans gave him a warm ovation as he headed to the dugout.
“Masterson is our ace, no question about it,” Brantley said. “When our ace throws, we’ve got to win those games. He threw great tonight and kept us in the ballgame and that’s all you can ask.”
The Indians, who have struggled to score lately, didn’t get their first hit off Mendoza until the fifth and then chased the right-hander during their three-run sixth.
With two on and none out, Aviles hit a ball to deep left that probably should have been caught by Alex Gordon, but the two-time Gold Glove winner dropped it, allowing Drew Stubbs to score and tie it at 2.
“It’s a ball that needs to be caught, especially in that situation,” Gordon said. “It was towards the wall but it was off my glove and I should have caught it. No question. It would have been a big out and could have changed the inning around.”
Jason Kipnis followed with a well-timed bunt single to load the bases and Mendoza threw four straight balls to Carlos Santana, forcing in Bourn with the go-ahead run.
Tim Collins then came in and allowed Brantley’s sacrifice fly that made it 4-2, but after giving up a single, he kept the Royals within two by striking out pinch hitter Ryan Raburn and getting Lonnie Chisenhall on a groundout.
However, the Indians tacked on an insurance run in the seventh when Bourn doubled, stole third and scored on Aviles’ fly ball to right.
Cleveland also got solid relief work from Bryan Shaw, who pitched 1 2-3 scoreless innings.
Mendoza, who had just one win in his previous six starts, coasted through the first four innings, allowing only a two-out walk in the first. He was handling the Indians with ease and appeared in complete control.
The right-hander didn’t make a mistake until Brantley turned on his fastball leading off the fifth, lining a shot into the right-field seats to trim Kansas City’s lead to 2-1.
“The first five innings were about as good as you can get,” Yost said. “He just kind of fell apart in the sixth after Stubbs got the hit.”
NOTES: Francona said 1B Nick Swisher (shoulder) will hit off a tee today, take batting practice Friday and will play Saturday as long as he’s pain free. ... Indians closer Chris Perez will not be activated from the disabled list on Friday as originally planned. Perez struggled with his mechanics during a rough, one-inning outing — five runs, three homers — at Double-A Akron on Tuesday and the club wants him to throw a bullpen session before deciding the next move. Francona said Perez probably will make another rehab appearance. ... The Royals are in a stretch of playing 13 of 15 games within the AL Central.