Matsuzaka looks good after tweaking routine

191542.jpg

Matsuzaka looks good after tweaking routine

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

LAKELAND, Fla. Theres often talk about the good and bad versions of Daisuke Matsuzaka each time he comes to the mound.

Matsuzaka had been Bad Dice-K all spring heading into Tuesday afternoons outing against the Detroit Tigers at Joker Marchant Stadium, and there was little hope it was about to get any better. The Japanese hurler had an 11.41 ERA in his first three starts and had shown little command of his vast array of pitches as he prepared for a season thats tremendously important to his big league future.

The Tigers werent giving him any breaks either by plopping Miguel Cabrera, Magglio Ordonez and former Sox catcher Victor Martinez into the middle of their lineup for Tuesday's game.

But none of that mattered in a 2-1, 10-inning win for the Sox over the Tigers. Matsuzaka was, in fact, Good Dice-K starting at the warmup session in the bullpen and he wound up pitching five shutout innings, allowing only two hits and one walk, with five strikeouts.

He just pounded the strike zone, threw all his pitches for strikes, said Terry Francona. We tell all of our pitchers that if they do it, good things will happen.

Jason Varitek couldfeel the power and electricity on his fastball, and consequently theSox righty didnt throw anything off-speed until the third inning. It was a performance that showed everyone just how good Matsuzaka can be when things are working.

"Everybody needs nuggets every once in awhile," said Varitek in one of his more Zen moments talking about one of his starters. "It was a good nugget for Matsuzaka today.

He was able to establish himself today," Varitek said. "Good mix. He started with location first and we were able to do different things off of that. He was good today.

Part of the intrigue behind Matsuzakas strong outing was the decision -- by Matsuzaka and new pitching coach Curt Young -- to tweak his routine between starts. Matsuzaka customarily combined his side throwing session and long toss regimen during the same day and both were vigorous, as is expected with the notoriously throw-happy Matsuzaka. Now he does his side session and long toss on separate days.

The Japanese righty indicated hed be sticking with the alteration that he and Young came up with this week.

Everyone associated with the Sox knows that if Matsuzaka can once again pitch the way he did during his first two seasons in Boston, then there is some truly scary potential for the starting staff.

If Matsuzaka can come out of camp healthy and be something close to the 18-3, 2.90 ERA hurler he was in 2008, then that takes a tremendous amount of pressure off fellow rotation members like Josh Beckett and John Lackey.

There are whispers Matsuzaka could be on the trade market, but its hard to believe there are many teams interested in the relatively high-maintenance pitcher adjusting to a new environment.

Instead the Sox and Matsuzaka are working to get back to what made the righty such an effective pitcher early in his career.

I was able to throw strikes with my breaking ball and behind in the count, said Matsuzaka, who began tinkering with the breaking stuff once his fastball was fully under command. When I saw the regular members of the Tigers in the lineup, I probably pitched a lot more closely to how I would pitch in the regular season. That was a good part of the game.

I was able to modify what was bad before in other starts and really bring it about into a positive way.

Francona said he was looking for some purpose out of Matsuzakas pitching prior to the game, and the Sox found that and then some. Matsuzaka also found some meaning in whats been a trying last week for him at spring training.

The Sox righty, along with Hideki Okajima, Junichi Tazawa and a fellow Japanese minor-leaguer in the Sox system, collected money for tsunami and earthquake relief funds prior to Monday nights game against the New York Yankees at City of Palms Park. Then the hurler went out and pitched against the Tigers with the thoughts and hopes of millions of his fellow countrymen on his mind.

"I'm always aware of what happened in Japan and I understand the fans are always watching me on the mound, so I would like to continue throwing better for people in Japan, as well as fans, said Matsuzaka through Sox interpreter Kenta Yamada.

With some pretty understandable motivation and his confidence firmly in place, the pieces are certainly in place for Good Dice-K to have a nice run to start the season in Boston.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com.Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Report: Third base among 'major upgrades' Red Sox seek by trade deadline

Report: Third base among 'major upgrades' Red Sox seek by trade deadline

Despite still being owed more than $42 million after this year, Pablo Sandoval's days with the Red Sox appear numbered. So, it's no surprise that landing a third baseman at the trade deadline is a priority.

That's among the "major upgrades" the Sox are seeking by the July 31 deadline, MLB.com columnist Mark Feinsand reports.

With Sandoval now on his second disabled list stint of the season - this time with an ear infection - after turning into what Feinsand calls "a horror tale for the Red Sox," and with fill-ins Josh Rutledge and Deven Marrero holding down third, it's apparent that the position is a glaring need.

"Sandoval is basically a non-entity at this point," a source told Feinsand. "They need to make a move there."

Feinsand mentions the usual suspects - Mike Moustakas of the Royals and Todd Frazier of the White Sox - as possibilities. Also, he wonders if former MVP Josh Donaldson could be pried away from the Blue Jays (if "Dave Dombrowski knocks their socks off") with an offer and if Toronto is still sputtering at the deadline?

Those other upgrades? "Boston is also looking for pitching, both in the rotation and bullpen," Feinsand writes. Again, no surprise there.

Drellich: Red Sox' talent drowning out lack of identity

Drellich: Red Sox' talent drowning out lack of identity

A look under the hood is not encouraging. A look at the performance is.

The sideshows for the Red Sox have been numerous. What the team’s success to this point has reinforced is how much talent and performance can outweigh everything else. Hitting and pitching can drown out a word that rhymes with pitching — as long as the wins keep coming.

MORE RED SOX

At 40-32, the Sox have the seventh-best win percentage (.556) in the majors. What they lack, by their own admission, is an intangible. Manager John Farrell told reporters Wednesday in Kansas City his club was still searching for its identity.

“A team needs to forge their own identity every year,” Farrell said. “That’s going to be dependent upon the changes on your roster, the personalities that exist, and certainly the style of game that you play. So, with [David Ortiz’s] departure, his retirement, yeah, that was going to happen naturally with him not being here. And I think, honestly, we’re still kind of forming it.”

To this observer, the vibe in the Red Sox clubhouse is not the merriest. 

Perhaps, in the mess hall, the players are a unified group of 25 (or so), living for one another with every pitch. What the media sees is only a small slice of the day. 

But it does not feel like Farrell has bred an easygoing, cohesive environment.

Farrell and big boss Dave Dombrowski appeared unaligned in their view of Pablo Sandoval’s place on the roster, at least until Sandoval landed on the disabled list. 

Hanley Ramirez and first base may go together like Craig Kimbrel and the eighth inning. Which is to say, selfless enthusiasm for the ultimate goal of winning does not appear constant with either.

Dustin Pedroia looked like the spokesperson of a fractured group when he told Manny Machado, in front of all the cameras, “It’s not me, it’s them,” as the Orioles and Red Sox carried forth a prolonged drama of drillings. 

Yet, when you note the Sox are just a half-game behind the Yankees for the American League East lead; when you consider the Sox have won 19 of their past 30 games, you need to make sure everything is kept in proportion.

How much are the Sox really hurt by a lack of identity? By any other issue off the field?

Undoubtedly, the Sox would be better positioned if there were no sideshows. But it’s hard to say they’d have ‘X’ more wins.

The Sox would have had a better chance of winning Wednesday’s game if Kimbrel pitched at any point in the eighth inning, that’s for sure. 

Kimbrel is available for one inning at this point, the ninth, Farrell has said.

A determination to keep Kimbrel out of the eighth because that’s not what a closer traditionally does seems like a stance bent on keeping Kimbrel happy rather than doing what is best for the team. The achievement of a save has been prioritized over the achievement of a team win, a state of affairs that exists elsewhere, but is nonetheless far from ideal — a state of affairs that does not reflect an identity of all for one and one for all.

Maybe the Sox will find that identity uniformly. Maybe they’re so good, they can win the division without it.