MIAMI -- Indians starter Justin Masterson is best known for wielding the kind of sinker that looks as though batters are hitting a bowling ball with a broom stick. This season, the pitcher is making sure people take notice of his slider as well.
Masterson has thrown a higher percentage of sliders this year, and the increased level of effectiveness has helped pave the way for the right-hander's All-Star showing.
"It's made all the difference in the world," Indians pitching coach Mickey Callaway said.
Through 23 starts this season, Masterson has held batters to an .081 (13-for-160) average with 91 strikeouts in at-bats that end with his slider. The starter has been especially tough on right-handed hitters, who have gone just 1-for-76 against the breaking pitch.
Last season, Masterson threw his slider 19.3 percent of the time, but that rate has risen to 27.7 percent this year.
"For him, that's like adding another pitch," Callaway said. "He's adding that much more effectiveness to his fastball. Basically, he's added almost 10 percent more effectiveness."
According to fangraphs.com, Masterson's slider is currently rated as the best in the Major Leagues with a value of 17.1. The next four pitchers in that ranking include Texas' Yu Darvish (16.8), San Francisco's Madison Bumgarner (14.2), Kansas City's Ervin Santana (12.9) and Miami's Jose Fernandez (11.9).
"Yeah, well, that's according to fangraphs," Masterson said with a smirk. "The fact that it has been more effective has been leading me to throw it more. Last year, it probably wasn't as good, so I'm not going to throw my third- or fourth-best pitch. I'm going to stick with what's working well."
Callaway credited Masterson's altered bullpen routine between starts this season for the pitcher's improvement across the board. The sinkerballer has been working through longer mound workouts (35-40 pitches this season) and having a hitter step up to the plate near the end of the session.
Masterson, who has already set career bests this season with 13 wins and 160 strikeouts, said the latter change has been the most helpful.
"For me, the biggest thing has been adding the hitter at the end," Masterson said. "It's a way to just kind of visualize and work through it before I finish."
Gomes gets elusive first big league trip to Miami
MIAMI -- Yan Gomes was excited about having the chance to head to Miami last season as a member of the Blue Jays. It was going to mark the first time that the young catcher's family had the chance to watch him play in a big league game in the city where he attended high school and college.
"And then they optioned me to Triple-A right before the trip," Gomes said.
A little more than a year later, Gomes finally got his homecoming.
Gomes was born in Brazil, but the catcher attended Miami Southridge High School and Barry University in Miami Shores. For this three-game series against the Marlins, the 26-year-old catcher will have his family, one of his two brothers and a host of friends in attendance.
"It's definitely cool to be home," Gomes said. "I got to hang out with my parents last night. That was exciting. And I'm definitely looking forward to batting practice, because I know a lot of my buddies will be out here. It's definitely exciting being out here."
Through 46 games this season, Gomes has hit .298 with seven home runs, 18 extra-base hits, 26 RBIs and an .859 on-base plus slugging percentage as Cleveland's backup catcher. Defensively, he has thrown out 57 percent of would-be base stealers and helped guide the Tribe's staf to a 3.80 ERA in his 367 innings behind the plate.
"I definitely wanted to prove myself," Gomes said. "I thought I could be an everyday big leaguer, or just play well. I'm definitely playing better than maybe I would've thought, but I'd say the work that we've been doing is paying off."
Gomes was quick to praise hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo and bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr., a former catcher, for their guidance this season. He said he has established a strong comfort level talking catching with Alomar, and Van Burkleo has helped the young catcher simplify the mechanics with his swing.
"We have a good system going," said Gomes, who was hitting .409 in his past 13 games entering Friday. "That's definitely helped. That's one thing I've learned [is] having a good routine when you get up here. I won't say I've perfected my routine, but it's been working."
Lack of DH not as important for Tribe this year
MIAMI -- The Indians faced a clear disadvantage in recent years when playing under National League rules. The lack of the designated hitter forced Travis Hafner into the role of pinch-hitter for Cleveland during Interleague games on the road.
Indians manager Terry Francona was not with the Tribe for Hafner, but he had the same situation when he had DH David Ortiz on his roster with the Red Sox.
The days of the prolonged Interleague road trips are over, though. This year, the realignment of the Astros from the NL Central to the American League West altered a change throughout the regular-season schedule. Interleague Play is now spread throughout the entire slate, making for shorter trips through the other league's guidelines.
"For three days, it's not the end of the world," Francona said on Friday. "They used to have the schedule where you played sometimes nine in a row, a 10-day trip. That was hard, man. You guys lived through it with Hafner. I had Ortiz. I thought it was very unfair.
"Now, you're here three games, and we're not really tied into a DH anyways. We're probably fortunate in a lot of regards."
This season, with Hafner now with the Yankees, the Indians have cycled through seven players in the DH role. Cleveland has constructed a roster filled with players who can handle multiple positions, creating a versatile group that is not effected much by Interleague Play.
During this three-game series in Miami, one thing Francona has kept in mind is the spacious dimensions at Marlins Park. The manager said having the fleet-footed trio of Michael Brantley, Michael Bourn and Drew Stubbs in the outfield will be important.
"That's a good way to start the series," Francona said of having all three in the lineup for Friday's series opener. "That's a big outfield."
Quote to note
"Zach thinks he can [hit]. Maybe that's good, because I don't know if he can bunt. He might be a better hitter than a bunter."
-- Indians manager Terry Francona, on starter Zach McAllister, who will have to hit in Saturday's game against the Marlins
• Double-A Akron outfielder Carlos Moncrief has hit .303 with 14 home runs, 43 extra-base hits and 63 RBIs through 104 games this season. On the year, he has averaged one strikeout every 4.6 at-bats. Over the 2011-12 seasons, between stints with Class A (low) Lake County and Class A (high) Carolina, he hit .240 with one strikeout per 2.9 at-bats on average.
"You rarely see a young player cut his strikeouts down like that so quickly," said Ross Atkins, the Indians' vice president of player development. "In Carlos' case, he's always had a very good eye. He has a disciplined approach. I think he was taking a lot of strikes. Now, I think he's gotten a little more aggressive with putting the ball in play."
• Josh Tomlin (right elbow) worked the seventh inning for Class A (low) Lake County in a 3-2 win over Fort Wayne in his latest Minor League rehab appearance. Tomlin, who had one strikeout in the outing, has logged three shutout innings through three rehab games.
• Entering Friday's game against the Marlins, the Indians were riding a season-high eight-game winning streak. Over the course of those eight games, Cleveland had outscored its opponents, 50-21, while hitting .307 as a team. The Indians' pitching staff had a 2.28 ERA in that span.
• SportsTime Ohio reported that the telecasts for the first three games of Cleveland's series against the White Sox earlier this week each ranked in the top five ratings for all Indians games this season. Only Opening Day against Toronto and July 8 against Detroit drew better ratings.
• After activating Triple-A Columbus pitcher Boof Bonser from the seven-day disabled list on Friday, the Indians granted the right-hander his release. Bonser went 0-2 with a 6.00 ERA across 15 innings in three games for the Clippers.