CLEVELAND -- When Justin Masterson's sinker is working properly, spinning out of that big paw of his and diving drastically down through the strike zone, there is little that a hitter can do but pound the baseball into the ground.
The Reds discovered that firsthand on Wednesday night.
"It was going down like a bowling ball," Indians manager Manny Acta said.
Masterson's mastery of his signature pitch paved the way for a complete-game gem, one that guided Cleveland to an overwhelming 8-1 victory over the Reds to wrap up the annual Ohio Cup series. Cincinnati's swings were feeble and unconvincing, and the Tribe walked away with a sweep of the three-game set at Progressive Field.
With the win, the Indians (36-32) remained seated atop the American League Central -- a position they retook with their walk-off victory on Tuesday night. The brooming of the Reds (38-30) came after Cleveland's intrastate rivals did the same to the Indians in a three-game series last week in Cincinnati.
Masterson's effort punctuated the Indians' run at redemption.
"When he's on, he's very tough," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "He was on tonight. It was mostly fastballs and sinkers and some sliders and the occasional changeup. Mostly, it was his sinker. You could tell by the number of balls we hit into the ground."
Over nine stellar innings, Masterson (4-6) limited the National League Central's first-place club to one unearned run. That lone breakthrough came in the eighth, when Jay Bruce reached on an error and eventually crossed home plate on a groundout from Willie Harris. Beyond that, the righty tamed the Reds' bats.
Masterson finished with nine strikeouts against zero walks, and he used that nasty two-seamer of his to induce 14 outs via ground balls. The big right-hander wielded a biting slider in his previous outing, but it was the sinker that took the leading role on Wednesday. Masterson did not feature a slider until the fourth inning.
"It was really good," Masterson said. "I think that was probably the biggest thing. It had a lot of good movement in the zone, kind of staying in the zone."
Cincinnati managed just three hits off Masterson, who piled up 76 strikes within the 110 pitches he logged. Masterson hit Chris Heisey with a one-out offering in the first inning, but quickly erased the baserunner with an inning-ending double play. Heisey also singled in the fourth, but catcher Lou Marson cut him down at second on a stolen-base attempt.
In the ninth inning, with Cleveland holding a commanding seven-run lead, Acta offered Masterson the chance to finish what he started. The sinkerballer did so in strong fashion, striking out Zack Cozart, Heisey and slugger Joey Votto in order to put the final touch on the fourth complete game of his career.
"Justin was just fantastic," Acta said. "He was just dominant the whole game. ... He pounded the strike zone with that heavy sinker, and then he was able to throw the ball by guys. He was under control the whole time. He does a pretty good job of just worrying about what he can control."
Acta's last remark eluded to Masterson's history of receiving sparse run support. Over his previous four starts, the Cleveland offense had produced just seven runs of support for Masterson. It has been an ongoing issue for the pitcher over the past couple of seasons.
That said, it was hardly an issue on Wednesday.
The Indians chased Reds righty Bronson Arroyo (five runs allowed on eight hits) from the contest after four innings and added a three-run outburst against Alfredo Simon in the seventh. Johnny Damon (three homers this season) and Asdrubal Cabrera (eight) led a five-run charge in the fourth inning with a home run apiece. Lonnie Chisenhall later chipped in a three-run double.
"We definitely want to score runs for everybody," Chisenhall said. "We want to play well, and we want them to pitch well. I don't know exactly how many runs he gets per game, but we can always do better."
It will not be much of an issue if Masterson continues on his recent roll.
Over his past four trips up the hill, Masterson has fashioned a 1.24 ERA, allowing just four earned runs over a span of 29 innings. In that stretch, he has amassed 27 strikeouts and six walks. In his last three starts -- against NL opponents (St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati) -- the righty has a 0.39 ERA (one earned run in 23 innings) with 24 strikeouts and three walks.
Suddenly, Masterson is looking like an ace-caliber starter again.
"We feel right now," Acta said, "the way he's throwing the ball over his last four outings, we have the guy that we had last year who, every five days, regardless of who's pitching for the other side, we have a very good chance to be in the game."