BOSTON Right-hander Daisuke Matsuzaka made the fifth start on his current rehab assignment Tuesday night, going seven scoreless innings (plus two walks in the eighth), giving up one hit and four walks with seven strikeouts for Triple-A Pawtucket. He has been on the disabled list since July 3 with a right upper trapezius strain, his second DL stint this season after beginning the year there will recovering from Tommy John surgery in June 2010.Matsuzaka has made just five starts for the Red Sox this season, going 0-3 with a 6.65 ERA. In all, he has made 13 minor league rehab starts this season, posting a record of 1-4 with a 3.32 ERA. In five starts on his current assignment he is 1-1 with a 2.78 ERA.Where and when his next start will be remains to be determined.Its the first time I threw deep into a game in a while, Matsuzaka said before Tuesdays game at Fenway against the Angels, through translator Jeff Cutler, of his outing with Pawtucket on Tuesday. But my body feels fine today.After my last start down in Pawtucket, I told Bobby and pitching coach Randy Niemann that I was ready. But I haven't spoke to them yet this time around. So Ill be speaking to them soon and then I think a decision will be made then.Prior to that, Valentine met with the media. The reports he got on Matsuzaka's outing were positive.The reports were good, Valentine said. He threw the ball well, kept it down, had his location, mixed his pitches, came out of it all right, just a little sore calf is all I hear. If all the things that we were dealing with, he seemed to be OK.Matsuzaka said he is not concerned about the sore calf.Its not the first time thats happened to me, he said. So Im not worried about it at all.Matsuzaka said his trapezius muscle is definitely better now and this is the healthiest he has felt in a while.After I had the surgery, my body definitely feels better than it did before, which is a good thing, he said. But its definitely been stressful and frustrating at the same time to have to fight through all these injuries. But I think Im finally in a good place and Im looking forward to getting better and better every time I pitch.Matsuzaka is in the final season of a six-year, 52 million contract. (The Sox also had to a pay a 51.1 million posting fee.) He has appeared in 110 games (110 starts), posting a record of 49-33 with a 4.34 ERA. But in 50 games (49 starts) over the last four seasons, he has a record of just 16-18 with a 5.17 ERA.Asked if he would like to return to the Sox after this season, Matsuzaka replied:Ive really enjoyed my time in Boston and my family also has enjoyed our time here. So Id like to but its a little early to say where Im going to be or be talking about that. But no matter how long Im going to be here Id like to wear the Red Sox uniform with honor and play hard for the rest of the season and do what I can to contribute to the team.
Rookie seasons are no small task for players -- regardless if it’s a pitcher or hitter. It’s the major adjustment of facing guys who have better control with multiple pitches, or hitters who’ve seen just about everything.
However, if you ask some players, the real adjustment comes in the second full season, when organizations have developed extensive scouting reports on players.
The “sophomore slump” is something hitters deal with during that stretch. Numbers tend to drop because scouting reports expose flaws, something that minor league pitchers don’t often have access to.
Mookie Betts, however, doesn’t entirely agree with the notion that it calls for a major slump.
“I mean I don’t know if it’s necessarily a thing,” the sophomore right fielder said. “You hear about it and whatnot, but I think it’s just an adjustment period guys go through. Everybody’s done it. Some people just get out of it faster.”
Early on it appeared Betts was falling into the stages of a “sophomore slump,” going through a 1-for-19 rut after opening day, then 2-for-21 stretch through mid-April.
Since that last slump ended on April 20th, Betts has boasted a .321 clip with two home runs, two triples and three doubles. He’s knocked in eight runs in the process, scoring 14 times himself.
So -- needless to say -- he doesn’t think it was the aforementioned slump
“No, I think it was just adjustments,” Betts explained. “I pretty much think it was just more adjustments that I had to make. Fortunately I was able to make a couple of them. That’s all it is. They make a move and we’ve got to make a move back.”
The adjustments weren’t a mechanical issue either -- it was more related to his approach at the plate.
“It’s important for me to go be aggressive,” Betts said. “They’re not trying to walk me, they aren’t trying to walk anybody -- except David Ortiz.”
One thing Betts has done a better job of since his last slump was shoot pitches to right field. He has to do that if he hopes to hit well because most, if not all, pitchers know he’ll clear out any inside pitch to the Monster seats faster than they can blink.
“They still make mistakes, too,” he said on pitchers working away from him. “I think the part is being aggressive and being ready for those mistakes.”
Like most hitters, Betts doesn’t expect to go though a major slump in 2016, but he knows there are more factors in play than the contact he makes.
“It just depends,” Betts said. “A lot goes into balls falling. I think I’ve hit the ball well this year and haven’t gotten a lot to fall. But then again, I have gotten some to fall. I think I’ve done pretty well, even through the time I was struggling I thought I did all right. [It’s] just [about] trying to get out of those little slumps quickly.”
Sinkerball pitchers are typically low-walk and low-strikeout pitchers. They want hitters to swing and pound that sinking fastball into the dirt.
Rick Porcello’s been a little different than most contact pitchers since he arrived last season.
In 2015 Porcello had his highest strikeout average in his career, nearly logging eight per nine innings pitched. That was in part because his fastball had bumped up from 2014 with Detroit, occasionally hitting 95 mph.
However, he’d gotten away from his bread and butter -- his movement. It wasn’t until his 15-day stint on the DL last August that he realized he needed to make an adjustment.
“I was really focused when I came off the DL last year on getting my sinker going again, be under control, locate. Get back to doing the things that I was doing the previous year that was working for me.”
After realizing he’d strayed from the pitcher he was, Porcello identified he needed to change the tempo of his delivery. It’s clear that taking a little off his delivery has been the pivotal adjustment since he came back from his late-season injury.
“I was making a conscious effort to slow things down, and locate the fastball, and go from there,” Porcello said.
However, Porcello’s back to striking hitters out again, almost averaging 10 K’s every nine innings.
But that hasn’t been a bad thing this time around. And he claims it isn’t completely deliberate -- and that he’s still trying to force contact.
“That’s really been my approach my entire career,” Porcello said. “I’ve never been a strikeout pitcher. When we get to two strikes then we’ll take our shots. It’s really more mixing speeds, changing eye levels and just trying to induce contact to get quick outs. That’s always been our focus and all we’re trying to do.”
While he’s enjoyed punching hitters out better than he ever as -- coupled with positive results -- he doesn’t expect the strikeout rate to maintain.
“Right now we’re happy to generate more strikeouts,” he explained. “But it’s not always going to be like that – that’s just the way it’s gone so far. So I try not to get caught up in that and focus on locating pitches. Whatever happens when I let go of the ball is out of my control. It’s kind of a product of what we’ve been doing thus far, but it hasn’t been our focus.”
John Farrell’s also made mention that the righty is in a good place mentally, and that focusing on the moment -- one pitch at a time -- has been huge.
Porcello explained that he’s always had that mental approach. He also noted that his mentality towards this season has been positive since the start -- and he plans to keep it that way.
“I’m confident and I felt like coming to the season I was in a good place,” Porcello said. “I was trying to ride that out and continue to do so. April’s behind us and there’s a lot of baseball to be played. I need to continue to get better and I need to continue to keep giving us a chance to win and throw the ball the way I’ve been throwing it.”