First pitch: Fitting end to Matsuzaka's time with Sox

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First pitch: Fitting end to Matsuzaka's time with Sox

NEW YORK -- It began, six years ago, with promise and mystique.

It will end, Wednesday night, in disappointment and indifference.

The Daisuke Matsuzaka Era, it turns out, was not so much as era as much as it was six seasons of mixed results, nagging injuries and confounding cultural differences.

There were occasional highs, but mostly, little beyond the ordinary. And the last thing anyone expected was that Matsuzaka would be ordinary.

He averaged just over eight wins per season, and the last few years, seemed to spend more time on the disabled list than he did on the mound.

Perhaps expectations were too high in the first place. But when the Sox won the bidding for Matsuzaka, then signed him to a six-year deal, there was every expectation that they had landed a surpremely talented pitcher.

His legend began from his high school career, when he became something of a national hero, and grew with his dominant performance on the international stage.

At 26, it seemed the Red Sox were getting a premier pitcher just entering his prime.

Even his signing took on the look of a Hollywood blockbuster, with the Red Sox engaging in some high-stakes, hardball negotiations with the pitcher's agent, Scott Boras.

It took an ultimatum on the part of the Sox -- and John Henry's idling private plane at nearby John Wayne International Airport -- to get the pitcher signed to a contract. Together with the posting bid, the Sox had spent 103 million.

It seemed like a good investment.

After all, Matsuzaka was said to have an almost limitless supply of pitches -- including one, the "gyroball,'' which may or may not have actually existed -- and potential star quality. A small army of reporters followed Matsuzaka to Boston and his games became must-see events in his native Japan.

From the beginning, there was reason for optimism. Matsuzaka pitched seven innings in his major league debut on April 5, 2007, limiting the Kansas City Royals to a single run while striking out 10.

A star was born.

In his first season, Matsuzaka was 15-12 with 2004 23 innings and 201 strikeouts, and if the ERA was a little high (4.40), well, that was a small blemish on an otherwise auspicious introduction to the big leagues.

The following year, Matsuzaka was even better, with 18 wins and a 2.90 ERA. He allowed the fewest hits per nine innings of any American League starter and suddenly, the 103 million seemed like a brilliant investment.

Then, it seemed to go very wrong. All along, Matsuzaka seemed at odds with the Red Sox suggestions for training, conditioning, between-starts workload and general pitching philosophy.

He wanted to throw more; they wanted him to throw less. They wanted him to attack the strike zone; he wanted to avoid pitching to contact.

A glut of injuries arose -- shoulder weakness, lat strains, muscle pulls -- and a divide continued over where he would spend his off-seasons.

After his second season in Boston, he never again experienced the same level of success. Following the first two seasons in which he averaged 16.5 wins, he never again reached double figures in victories.

In fact, he seldom pitched, period. After averaging 30 starts in his first two seasons, he combined to make 30 starts in 2008, 2009, 2011 and this year.

What went wrong? Even now, with the benefit of hindsight, it's difficult to say. Culturally and otherwise, Matsuzaka never seemed to make the adjustment to the U.S. and Major League Baseball.

He remained distant from his teammates, unwilling or unable to communicate in anything other than his native language. He clung, stubbornly at times, to training methods that seemed ill-suited for MLB. And six years after his arrival, there remain questions about whether elite Japanese pitchers can succeed long-term here.

Tonight, he takes the mound for what is almost certainly his last appearance in a Red Sox uniform. It will be in a game with absolutely no consequence for the Sox, so it is perhaps sadly fitting that Matsuzaka be the starter.

The final game of a season in which the Sox fell ridiculously short of expectations will be started by a pitcher who seldom came close to realizing his own expectations -- and those of the team which invested so much in him.

Could Chris Sale's altercation open the door to get him at a lower cost?

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Could Chris Sale's altercation open the door to get him at a lower cost?

Chris Sale -- this year’s American league starting pitcher in the All-Star game -- was a late scratch and sent home before his scheduled Saturday start.

This of course comes after the White Sox have begun to listen to offers for their bonafide ace -- including the Red Sox.

Preceding the game, the White Sox released a statement from senior vice president/general manager Rick Hahn explaining that Sale’s removal was “due to a clubhouse incident before the game.”

After ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported the altercation was with staff from the front office and had nothing to do with his teammates, there was another report that the issue pertained to the throwback uniforms the White Sox planned to wear for Saturday’s game.

Fox’s Ken Rosenthal has additionally been told the issue “was bigger than that.” 

Sale is a huge addition to any starting rotation -- never mind the Red Sox staff.

His stats are without a doubt impressive. An All-Star every season since 2012 thanks to his career 2.95 ERA and 10.1 K/9 -- this year posting a 3.18 ERA and 8.7 K/9.

But numbers can be deceiving -- especially with players playing for a small market club. That’s not the case with Sale though. While the White Sox haven’t contended in the postseason with the lefty, there’s no denying that Chicago isn’t a small market by any means.

The jump from Chicago to Boston is nothing compared to players coming from places like Miami or Atlanta -- or San Diego. So Sale presents a good fit in terms of approach -- in addition to having good stuff.

The incident makes Sale come across as a prima donna, the fact that the issue went past the uniforms shows there could be a deeper issue at hand -- and not so much an indictment of his mental make-up.

Additionally, this altercation could open the door to get Sale at a lower value. If it was that bad that he was sent home, it could take a lot more than a stern talk and hand shakes to resolve the issue, giving interested teams a much better chance to obtain the Cy Young candidate.

However, if the Red Sox do manage to strike a deal with the White Sox, they’d be wise to throw someone else on throwback nights.

Nick Friar can be followed on Twitter: @ngfriar

Mookie Betts' injury likely just a short-term issue

Mookie Betts' injury likely just a short-term issue

BOSTON -- After leaving Friday night’s game with right knee soreness, structural damage has been ruled out regarding Mookie Betts, but he could still be out for a bit.

Testing was done on Betts’ knee, removing any doubt of a deeper issue, revealing it was just build-up of fluid, causing swelling in his knee.

“Day-to-day is the status. It may take a couple for him before he’s back to us.” John Farrell said. “Everything points to this being a short-term situation.”

Betts explained that his condition had improved from Friday night, but -- much like Farrell -- doesn’t know how quickly he can bounce back. He wouldn’t make a definitive statement on whether or not he’d be available Sunday.

“It feels pretty good now,” Betts said. “We’re going to do some treatment on it, make sure everything is good and hopefully get back out there.”

Betts joins the list of pivotal players unavailable in Saturday’s game, including Craig Kimbrel and Koji Uehara who are both on the DL.

Farrell couldn’t commit to a timetable for when he expects Uehara should be back, but hopes he’ll be available during the regular season.

“We’re hopeful of that,” Farrell said when asked if he thought Uehara would be back before the postseason. “There’s no number of day’s that says Koji’s going to put a ball back in his hand . . . To give you a time frame, it’s too early to tell.”

Kimbrel, on the other hand, has bounced back well, and is expected to throw his first bullpen Sunday or Monday. The hope is that he’ll throw twice off the mound before the trip to the West, which would set him up for a simulated game.

“We need to get some PFP involved -- just some change in direction, fielding the position,” Farrell said on Kimbrel. “But in terms of amount of time missed, and that fact that he’s able to as get aggressive right now in long toss. I would think it would be on the shorter end of appearances if it’s even more than one. He feels very good. If he wasn’t making the ultimate decision medically [he’d] probably say ‘Give me the ball tonight.’ That’s how good he feels -- that’s encouraging.”

 

Saturday's Red Sox-Twins lineups: Betts out with knee soreness

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Saturday's Red Sox-Twins lineups: Betts out with knee soreness

Mookie Betts is out of the lineup Saturday after leaving the game Friday night with knee soreness and Brock Holt moves into the leadoff spot for the Red Sox in Game 3 of their four-game series with the Minnesota Twins at Fenway Park.

Manager John Farrell said Betts is day-to-day after the right fielder left the Red Sox' 2-1 loss in the fifth inning with pain in his right knee. There is swelling, but an MRI showed no structural damage.Michael Martinez will start in right on Saturday night. Betts had started in 93 of Boston's 94 games this season. 

Aaron Hill gets the start at third base for the Red Sox in place of Travis Shaw.  

Left-hander David Price (9-7, 4.36 ERA) makes his second start of the second half for the Red Sox. Price took the loss in a 3-1 defeat against the Yankees on Sunday night, allowing 11 hits and three runs in 5 2/3 innnigs. 

Right-hander Ricky Nolasco (4-8, 5.02) is on the mound for the Twins.

The lineups:

TWINS
Eduardo Nunez SS
Robbie Grossman DH
Miguel Sano 3B
Brian Dozier 2B
Max Kepler RF
Kennys Vargas 1B
Eddie Rosario LF
Kurt Suzuki C
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Ricky Nolasco RHP

RED SOX
Brock Holt LF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Xander Bogaerts SS
David Ortiz DH
Hanley Ramirez 1B
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
Aaron Hill 3B
Sandy Leon C
Michael Martinez RF
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David Price LHP