Masset optimistic after battling command in '11

Masset optimistic after battling command in '11

CINCINNATI -- Because they always need to look ahead to the next outing, relievers can rarely afford to look back during a season. But as 2011 came to a close, Reds setup man Nick Masset wished his year went a little smoother than it did.

When the season ended, Masset still had respectable numbers with a 3.71 ERA over 75 games pitched. It was his third consecutive year making at least 74 appearances. However, there were prolonged stretches of struggle in between moments of dominance.

"It's kind of been a roller coaster, up and down," Masset said just before the season ended. "I've had some highs and some lows. I definitely missed with some of my pitches. I had a hard time with my cutter and slider, which got me into trouble at times. Being a reliever and having that many pitches, sometimes it can be difficult for you when they are not all locked in."

Masset had a 3-6 record and 62 strikeouts with 76 hits, 31 walks and five home runs allowed in 70 1/3 innings. He was charged with six blown saves, and 11 of his 28 inherited runners scored.

"In the case of Masset, it's more of missed location and pitch selection to me, versus a loss of stuff," said Reds manager Dusty Baker.

Much like he experienced in 2010, Masset's '11 season started poorly, and he spent the rest of the season chipping away at a high ERA. Through his first five appearances, he was 0-3 with a 9.95 ERA and accounted for three of Cincinnati's first four losses of the season.

In a 34-appearance stretch from May 3-July 19, Masset posted a 1.36 ERA. Then, in August, he had a 7.20 ERA over 12 games. The pendulum swung back upward down the stretch in September, when Masset had a 1.04 ERA over his final 11 outings.

"It's been a battle. I stayed positive all the way through," Masset said.

The 29-year-old is different from some late-inning relievers in that he regularly uses four different pitches rather than a basic fastball and off-speed pitch. His best two pitches are a sinker and curveball -- the former usually saves the Reds from jams in the late innings. It helped net 11 double plays in 2009 and seven in '10.

In 2011, Masset's double-play total dropped to four.

The right-hander had no plans to drop his two struggling pitches or streamline his repertoire.

"It's something I can work on in the offseason, coming into next year," Masset said. "I have some things I want to get better with. I definitely won't cut it out, because I think it will take away more than help me out."

The Reds signed Masset to a two-year, $2.58 million contract after a sterling 2009 season, when he went 5-1 with a 2.37 ERA. He is a third-year arbitration-eligible player heading into this winter.

General manager Walt Jocketty said that Masset was in Cincinnati's plans for next season.

"He was inconsistent, and in many cases, could be more aggressive," Jocketty said. "He has the ability to do that. It's one of the things we'll talk about in the offseason."

Masset was optimistic heading into a winter of contract negotiations and would love to remain in Cincinnati for a while.

"I feel good. My numbers weren't as good as they could have been," Masset said. "But being a reliever with a high ERA, you can kind of wash that because you give up four runs in one game and your ERA blows up. I never really focus on that. I feel like I'm not going anywhere. I plan to stay here as long as they want me here. We have a good team with young guys. We're just going to get better and better through the years."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.