Matsuzaka earns 50th career win in second return from DL

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Matsuzaka earns 50th career win in second return from DL

BOSTON -- Daisuke Matsuzaka knows what everyone says about Tommy John surgery. You'll throw harder afterwards. Assuming everybody's body reacts differently, and whether or not that will eventually be the case with Matsuzaka, Red Sox pitching coach Randy Niemann knows exactly why he was able to pick up his first win of the season on Monday afternoon.

"As he's progressed along, I think his fastball has gotten a little better," said Niemann after Boston's 5-1 win over the Kansas City Royals at Fenway Park. "And again, maybe not velocity-wise, but there's a life to his pitches, that, when you're back to full strength, there's a finishing life to him that I think he's gotten back. Evidence is, the hitters when they swing at it. It's not as easy to square the ball up. I'm seeing more and more of that with each outing. Every time that he's had a chance to be out there for us, I'm seeing more and more of that."

So it wasn't the velocity of Matsuzaka's fastball on Monday, it was the life and movement on his fastball, especially when the ball reached the hitter.

Matsuzaka returned to the Red Sox in June after fully recovering from Tommy John surgery. He then went back on the DL in July with a neck injury, only to make his second return on Monday.

"When I returned back in June, and I didn't get the results I wanted to, I thought for a moment that I wouldn't be able to pitch a game like today, this season," said Matsuzaka through his translator after Monday's win. "But I got back to my rehab and my last two rehab starts in Pawtucket went really well. I felt really good. And I knew that if I was able to pitch like that up here, the results will come.

"When I had to go back on the DL, back in July, it was very discouraging. Especially since I didn't expect my body to respond the way it did. But the encouraging part about that was, it wasn't my elbow. My elbow was feeling fine. So, despite not being sure whether I'd be able to come back strong this season and pitch a game like I did today, I was able to work at it, and the results eventually started to come."

Those results came in the form of 101 pitches in seven innings against the Royals. He allowed just one run, though it was unearned, walked two, and struck out six while giving up five hits.

It was exactly what the Red Sox needed.

"I saw a good pitcher who used all his pitches," said Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine after the win. "I thought the 2-ball, 1-strike count turned the game around about five times, where he was able to throw his breaking ball for a strike. And I thought he had good control of his cutter, on the outside part to right-handers. He got hit a couple times back-dooring to left-handers, but you know, he gave us what we needed. 100 pitches, seven innings, five hits. That's a good outing."

Valentine believes that Matsuzaka has the ability to finish the season "strong" if he throws like he did today. For Matsuzaka, that will be a good thing, more so for his own impending free agency, than it will for a Red Sox team that is essentially out of the playoff race.

But, I guess you can't tell him that.

"I've actually never experienced going into free agency, even in Japan," said Matsuzaka through his translator on Monday. "So I don't know exactly what to expect in free agency. I'm not really thinking about that at all. Right now, I'm more focused on the playoffs, and figuring out how I can contribute to the team and get the team in a position where we can be competitive."

In reality, the only thing Matsuzaka will be pitching for -- from now until the end of the regular season -- is a new contract. And if he can continue what he did on Monday against the Royals, somebody will give him another one.

It just might not be the Red Sox.

Drellich: MLB could explain umpire rulings more often

Drellich: MLB could explain umpire rulings more often

BOSTON — We know that Red Sox manager John Farrell did something wrong. In the absence of any sort of formal announcement otherwise, we’re left to assume the umpires did everything properly — but there’s room for MLB to make that clearer.

If the NBA can put out Last 2 Minute reports, why can’t MLB provide more regular explanations or reviews of contested calls?

Farrell on Tuesday said he’d like to see more public accountability in the umpiring realm, hours before the manager was to sit out Game No. 77. Farrell was suspended one game for making contact with crew chief Bill Miller on Saturday night as manager and umpire rained spittle on each other over a balk call that went against the Sox.

Well, was it a balk or not? Did Miller do anything wrong as well?

“I don’t know if there was anything levied on the other side,” Farrell said. “I don’t know that.”

But would he like such matters to always be public?

“I think there have been strides made in that way,” Farrell said. “I guess I would. I think everyone in uniform would prefer that to be made public. Whether or not that happens, I don’t know, but that would be a choice I would make.”

The league has a thorough internal review system. But it is just that: internal. Most of the time, any way.

On most every night at Fenway Park, there is someone on hand watching just the umpires and reviewing them.

MLB, to its credit, has announced suspensions for umpires in the past. The league has made public acknowledgments when calls have been made incorrectly. More of that seems viable — even if it’s an announcement to reaffirm that the call was made and handled properly, and here are the reasons why.

“I haven’t received any further determination or review of what transpired,” Farrell said. “My position, my stance, remains steadfast. I still firmly believe that time was called [before the balk call was made]. I wasn’t arguing the balk. I was arguing the timing of it. As I reiterated today to those that I spoke with, I still stand by my side of the argument. Unfortunately, there was contact made.”

Drellich: Hanley Ramirez has to improve or Red Sox need to try others

Drellich: Hanley Ramirez has to improve or Red Sox need to try others

BOSTON — It doesn’t really matter what’s holding Hanley Ramirez back: his health, his desire to play through injuries, neither, both. The Red Sox need him to hit better as the designated hitter, or give someone else a chance in his place.

Tuesday is June 27. From May 27 on, Ramirez is hitting .202 with a .216 on-base percentage and .369 slugging percentage.

Putting Ramirez on the disabled list so that he can heal up, or at least attempt to, would be reasonable. If you can’t hit well — if you can’t even be in the lineup, as has been the case the last two days — you're hampering the roster.

Ramirez was out of the lineup for a second straight game on Tuesday because of his left knee, which was hit by a pitch Sunday. He’s been bothered by his shoulders all season.

“He’s improved today. He’s responding to treatment,” manager John Farrell said Tuesday of Ramirez’s knee. “He’s still going through some work right now. Would get a bat in his hand here shortly to determine if he’s available to pinch hit tonight. Prior to yesterday’s game, day to day, and still in that status, but he is improving.”

The route to better production doesn’t matter. As long as the Sox get some, be it from Ramirez or somewhere else. Flat-out benching Ramirez in favor of Chris Young or Sam Travis or both for a time should be on the table.

When it comes to lineups vs. lefties, Farrell might be thinking the same way. 

Farrell was asked Tuesday if he’d consider playing someone at DH other than Ramirez for performance reasons.

“I wouldn’t rule it out,” Farrell said. “Where he was so good against left-handed pitching last year, that’s been still a work in progress, for lack of a better way to describe it. So we’re always looking to put the best combination on the field.”

A right-handed hitter, Ramirez is just 5-for-35 (.143) vs. lefties this season, after hitting .346 against them a year ago.

On the flip side: in the final three months of the 2016 season, Ramirez hit .300 with a .379 OBP and .608 slugging percentage overall. That’s from the start of July through the end of the regular season vs. all pitchers.

“You know, the one thing you can’t completely turn away from is what Hanley did last year,” Farrell said. “While I know that’s last year, we’re still working to get some increased performance from him. I think he’s still a key member in our lineup. The presence he provides, the impact that he’s capable of. And yet, we’re still working to get there.”

Farrell said the team hasn’t been able to pinpoint a particular reason for Ramirez’s struggles vs. southpaws.

“No,” Farrell said. “There’s been extensive video review. There’s been extensive conversations with him. There’s been stretches, short stretches, where he’s I think shown the approach at the plate and the all field ability to drive the baseball. That’s been hit and miss a little bit. So, we’re just trying to gain a consistency that he’s been known for.”

Mitch Moreland's been playing with a fractured big toe in his left foot. After he homered and had another impactful night Monday, Farrell made some comments that are hard to read as anything but a message to Ramirez.

“In [Moreland's] most recent stretch, he’s been able to get on top of some fastballs that have been at the top of the strike zone or above for some power obviously,” Farrell said. “But I think the way he’s gone about it given the physical condition he’s in, is a strong message to the remainder of this team.”

Asked about that comment a day later, Farrell shot down the idea he was trying to reach Ramirez or anyone else with that remark about playing hurt.

“No,” Farrell said Tuesday. “I respect the question, but that was to highlight a guy who has been dealing with a broken toe, continues to perform at a high level and to compliment Mitch for the way he’s gone about it.”

It doesn't matter why Ramirez isn't producing, at a certain point. Either he is or he isn't. If not, they need to be willing to give someone else an extended look, whether it lands Ramirez on the DL or simply the bench.