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Francona names Masterson as Opening Day starter

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Indians are asking sinkerballer Justin Masterson to lead their rotation for the second season in a row.

On Tuesday, Cleveland manager Terry Francona informed Masterson that he will be given the ball on Opening Day against the Blue Jays on April 2 in Toronto. It marks Masterson's second consecutive opening nod.

"I didn't feel like holding it in. I was excited to tell him," Francona said. "I think he's the leader of our staff. We want him to be the leader of the staff, and I think he's taken that responsibility."

Francona delivered the news to Masterson in the home dugout at Goodyear Ballpark prior to Cleveland's Cactus League contest against the Royals.

"I was happy. I was hoping for it," Masterson said. "Tito and I talked over the offseason about some things, and that it might be a possibility. It turns out it is. I'm excited to have another opportunity to get out there and set the tone just like I want to. You can never expect anything, but it's something I hoped for."

Last season, Masterson endured an up-and-down campaign, finishing the year 11-15 wth a 4.93 ERA in 34 outings for the Indians. Over 206 1/3 innings -- the second straight year he logged at least 200 frames -- Masterson mixed in 159 strikeouts and 88 walks.

In his Opening Day outing a year ago, Masterson turned in one of his best performances of the season. Facing Toronto at home, the right-hander scattered two hits and allowed just one run, piling up 10 strikeouts against one walk in eight stellar innings of work. Masterson picked up a no-decision for his effort.

"That was great, because it was at home," Masterson said. "It was a lot of fun. This year, it's going to be on the road in a different country. It was great last year. Packed house, lots of energy with everyone there. That made it fun."

Masterson received his first Opening Day assignment after a breakout showing in 2011. In 34 games that season, the starter went 12-10 with a 3.21 ERA and 216 innings. Along the way, he struck out 158 hitters and issued 65 free passes.

Francona mentioned recently that Masterson and Ubaldo Jimenez would be matching up against the top two starters from rival clubs this season. If that plan holds, Jimenez would slot into the starting staff as the No. 2 arm with his first outing scheduled for April 3 in Toronto.

Behind Masterson and Jimenez, the Indians' only perceived lock for the rotation is righty Brett Myers, who signed a one-year, $7 million contract with the club over the winter. Right-hander Zach McAllister is the favorite for the fourth job, while Trevor Bauer, Carlos Carrasco, Scott Kazmir, Corey Kluber, Daisuke Matsuzaka and David Huff are in the mix for the final opening.