Justin Masterson was a disaster in 2014, and it all began a year ago during his first bullpen sessions of the spring. He wasn't healthy, but only in the way you discover when your job is throwing baseballs at high speeds for a living and you've started to do so again. Luckily, when he attempted the same exercises and bullpen sessions that were an ominous sign for 2014, he was greeted with nothing: no pain, and no worries. That's not the end of things, but it's certainly a huge relief for both Masterson and the Red Sox.
Masterson doesn't throw in the winter, as he told WEEI's Rob Bradford that he prefers to give his body as much rest as possible. You have to do what works for your own body, so it's hard to criticize Masterson for not throwing, but in the case of last season, it kept him from discovering there was any residual pain or side effects from his oblique tear until spring training had begun, and everything went downhill from there. That was said in a literal sense, as the injury effect cascaded down through Masterson's body, causing him knee pain and rib soreness that kept him from the mechanics that had made his 2013 so successful.
"In the offseason, after I tore the oblique, I didn't get it worked through. I didn't get that scar tissue taken away," Masterson explained. "I didn't strengthen the way I should have. A lot of things I didn't do right just because it felt fine. And then it was like I was catching up the whole time, and because of the lack of rotation other stuff started working harder and then you go down that chain. The knee starts hurting a little bit. The hips aren't working as well as they should. The arm's not coming through. You're like, what's going on here? All of those things were a trickle down effect.
When healthy, Masterson is a valuable addition to a rotation. He averaged 205 innings per season from 2011 through 2013, and while his 2012 was beset by batting average on balls in play issues, the seasons that flanked it produced well above-average ERA to go with the workhorse work rate. If he's starting the year without pain -- suggesting he's far enough removed from the aftereffects of his oblique injury -- then there is a very good chance he'll be that pitcher again. We'll of course have to wait to see if he remains pain free, and to see if any part of last summer's poor mechanics and lessened velocity caused by the injury are still around, but as far as February signs go, this one is a positive.