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Masterson not discouraged after poor start

CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Justin Masterson knows it didn't look pretty.

His box score line Sunday against the Philadelphia Phillies crammed a lot of messy developments (seven hits, two walks, two homers and six earned runs) into 3.1 innings. But Masterson was the first to remind us -- and himself -- that spring training is a fantastic invention on days like this.

"I enjoyed this outing," the Boston Red Sox right-hander said, with complete sincerity. "I think it was my best outing, as far as getting some solid work in like I'm supposed to in spring training."

OK, that's what he said. Now here's what he meant.

He arrived on the mound in the first inning and "didn’t feel good," he admitted. He couldn't find his arm slot, couldn't locate and served up two singles, a Ryan Howard double and a Jordan Danks home run to the first eight hitters. So that wasn't good.

But spring training is all about adjustments. And in the third inning, Masterson thought he found his arm slot, commanded his stuff a lot more precisely and righted the ship until he tired midway through the fourth.

"So I was happy to make those adjustments and get back to where I need to be," he said, after taking the loss in an 11-4 defeat to the Phillies, "even though people see umpteen runs and a million homers."

Over Masterson's first two appearances this spring, in the wake of signing a one-year, $9.5 million deal as a free agent this winter, he allowed just one hit and no earned runs in five innings, while striking out four. But by the time his old Indians teammate, Cord Phelps, finished his day with a three-run fourth-inning homer, Masterson's once-pristine Grapefruit League ERA inflated to 6.48 on Sunday. Oh, well.

But Masterson has been around long enough to learn an important lesson about spring training: It's almost never a predictor of future performance.

"I was even saying to somebody else, 'Man, last year I sliced and diced in spring training, and it [his season] wasn't very good,'" he said. "The year before ... everyone hit homers, and I did great. So it just means I'm working, going through some stuff, and honestly, I was just really excited about how things progressed."

Masterson also knows, though, that trying to convince fans that he'd just had a positive, exciting outing, while giving up six runs, might not work so hot.

"Convince them? No. I mean, they're fans," he chuckled. "I mean, I was trying to convince myself. I'm still a competitor, and it's supposed to be like, 'You're working. No, you're progressing. You're this and this.' And I'm like, 'I know. But it stinks when you see a guy hit a homer off you.' But that's the hard part.

"You know, as a hitter, you're going out there and you might strike out, you might roll over one, and that's the thing. But as a pitcher, this is when you're getting your work in. So yeah, you'd like to be A-plus, knocking people out. But unfortunately, this is when you get your work in, and everyone gets to see it. So when you're a little bit off, everyone gets to see how off you were."

• The Red Sox had their roughest pitching day of the spring, with Masterson, Dana Eveland and Wade Miley allowing 11 runs, 15 hits, five walks and three homers. Left-handed bullpen candidate Tommy Layne was the bright spot, spinning a 1-2-3 eighth with two strikeouts.

"We struggled with command," said manager John Farrell. "Inconsistent velocity. We're at that point in camp where you see some variation in arm strength. Could be a little bit of dead-arm [syndrome] as we're getting to our third and fourth time on the mound. So we've had better days. But I think these are those growing points in camp that you've gotta get through physically."

• Like Masterson, Miley also came into this game with a 0.00 ERA over his first two appearances, but never got into any rhythm in this outing, allowing six hits, three walks, a Ryan Howard homer and four runs overall in three innings.

"I wasn't very effective," he said. "I didn't make pitches. I put myself in some very bad situations, and especially against lefties. I didn't do a very good job against their lefties."

Daniel Nava started at first base and went 2-for-3, including a home run off Phillies starter Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. Nava is 4-for-17 (.235) this spring, but has a .381 on-base percentage and .529 slugging percentage after seven games. And Farrell praised his ability to consistently "put up good at-bats" this spring. Nava is fighting, seemingly as always, for playing time in the outfield and at first.

"In a sense, he and Allen [Craig] are in similar positions from either side of the plate," Farrell said. "But in our home ballpark, Daniel's range in the outfield allows him to play right field more comfortably than Allen. So both will be in that type of role."

Asked if there is room for both Nava and Craig on the roster, Farrell said: "The challenge [is] to get the at-bats consistently. But room, for sure."

• Masterson appears on track to start the third game of the regular season, also against the Phillies. But unlike some pitchers, he saw the positive in getting to face them first in spring training.

"You get your feet wet," Masterson said. "I think, as a pitcher, the more you face a team, in the overall sense, if you can execute what you're trying to do, the better you will be, because you see their response, what they like, what they can do. And you're able to make the adjustments first. And then they have to adjust to what you adjust, and you just go from there."

• Masterson on his first time pitching to Blake Swihart this spring: "Good. I like 'ol Blake Swihart." Masterson said Swihart tried to console him after his early struggles, "just trying to talk me through the early couple of innings. And I'm like, 'I know. I'm not doing very good.' But even in spring, he's showing he cares, and he works hard. I love his personality.

"You guys all talking about him getting traded to Philly?" Masterson then asked the assembled media. "You're like, 'Is this a really big game for you today? Yeah, you were raking in spring today. You will be a Philadelphia Phillie.' ... I love it."

• The Red Sox have now lost three games in a row after a seven-game winning streak. They return to Jet Blue Park on Monday for a 1:05 p.m. ET game against the New York Mets in which the Mets are scheduled to roll out both Matt Harvey and top prospect Noah Syndegaard. Joe Kelly will be Boston's starter, with Edward Mujica, Alexi Ogando and Junichi Tazawa also scheduled to pitch.