03/26/07 10:00 PM ET
Matsuzaka 'as advertised' to Reds
Hitters impressed by talent despite righty's lapse in control
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
Despite holding the Reds hitless over five innings, Monday was far from Matsuzaka's best day. He labored with his control, walking five and throwing 104 pitches.
In lieu of speaking directly to the assembled scribes from the United States and Japan, Matsuzaka left the following statement with Sachiyo Sekiguchi of the Red Sox's public relations staff:
"This time of year, I think the content of my pitching is more important than the result on paper. I'm not happy with the content of my pitching today. I threw a lot of walks and wasted pitches, and it was tough on my fielders to defend and to get in a good rhythm on defense. It's something I want to pay attention to in the regular season."
In other words, Matsuzaka knows full well that five no-hit innings, no runs and six strikeouts looks all well and good to the average observer. But in his self-critical eyes, it's not enough.
What does Matsuzaka expect from himself?
"Perfection," Red Sox manager Terry Francona said. "I think he even said the other day after he pitched [against the Pirates] he wasn't satisfied. You'll probably have to get used to it. Some of it is probably the way he pushes himself when he does pitch well, and he gets mad at himself when he's not as good as he thinks he should be. I think that's the way a lot of good players are."
The Red Sox don't expect Matsuzaka to be Pedro Martinez, circa 1999. At this stage of the game, they want Matsuzaka to simply be a key member of their pitching staff.
"What comes from it is that even though he probably didn't command like he wanted to, he didn't give them anything," Francona said. "There's a lot of ways for him to get outs. I think fastball command was difficult for him today, but there's a lot of ways for him to get outs. But there was some good; it's not always perfect. He's got a lot of ways to get you out."
The Reds found that out, witnessing Matsuzaka's tight-rope act first-hand.
"We didn't get any hits, so obviously he did something," Reds right fielder Ken Griffey Jr. said. "It's a matter of seeing him a couple of times and reacting. The first time that you see anybody, he has the advantage over you. But he's a guy who thinks his way through the order and knows what he wants to do."
With this performance coming on the heels of his gem against the Pirates, Matsuzaka has allowed a grand total of one hit and one run over his last 11 2/3 innings -- this, while striking out 13 in that span. With one Spring Training start left, Matsuzaka has a 2.04 ERA.
Matsuzaka labored at the start, walking leadoff batter Ryan Freel and then getting behind, 3-0, on No. 2 batter Adam Dunn. The tide turned when Dunn swung on 3-0 and popped to left. The rest of the inning was uneventful, as Brandon Phillips flew to center and Griffey popped out to second.
"He didn't have as good of a feel," Sox catcher Jason Varitek said. "He was still able to make enough quality pitches to do well."
The second inning was even more of a struggle, with Matsuzaka needing 26 pitches to get through the inning. A catcher's interference call on Varitek -- which could have been the third out of the inning -- prolonged things. Still, Matsuzaka stranded two runners by getting Bobby Livingston on a grounder to short.
"Daisuke was funky, for one thing," Reds manager Jerry Narron said. "He throws a lot of different speeds. He throws a lot of different pitches at different speeds. He's got pretty good command."
Matsuzaka appeared to be getting into his groove in the third, striking out two. The only glitch was a two-out walk to Alex Gonzalez.
"I don't think he had his best stuff today. What am I saying? I've never seen the guy before in my life," Dunn said. "But from what I saw today, it was as advertised. He didn't have very good location today. It probably made it a little easier on us. But he still got away with no runs and no hits. He did what he had to do."
He got better as the outing went on, striking out two in the fourth and another pair in the fifth. Matsuzaka ended the day in style, blowing a fastball by Phillips for strikeout No. 6.
"I think in the fifth inning his command was probably the best," Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell said. "The velocity to his fastball, which I don't have the exact readings, seemed to be at its best location -- its best life through the zone. But I think most of the curveballs that he threw -- particularly out of the windup -- he had a little bit more difficulty today than he'd shown in the past, but when he needed to make a pitch, he was able to execute."
The right-hander will make his final exhibition outing on Saturday in Philadelphia. That outing will be scaled down, as Matsuzaka is expected to be limited to somewhere between 40 and 60 pitches.
Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.