Matsuzaka looks good after tweaking routine

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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

As expected, Red Sox send Swihart to Pawtucket

As expected, Red Sox send Swihart to Pawtucket

Blake Swihart wasn't going to win a job. Monday merely made that official.

Swihart was optioned out as the Red Sox made further cuts, sending a player who could still be the Red Sox catcher of the future -- well, one of them anyway -- to Triple-A Pawtucket, where he's expected to work on his receiving.

Swihart hit .325 in 40 Grapefruit League at-bats.

"Had a very strong camp and showed improvements defensively. Swung the bat very well," manager John Farrell told reporters in Florida.  "For the player that he is and the person that he is, you love him as a person. He's a hell of a talented player.

"He made some subtle adjustments with his setup [defensively]. That gave him a different look to pitchers on the mound. Pitchers talked positively about the look that they got from him behind the plate. I think it softened his hands somewhat to receive the ball better. And there were a number of occasions where he was able to get a pitchers' pitch called for a strike, so the presentation of the umpire was a little bit more subtle and consistent then maybe years' past."

Sandy Leon's hot hitting in 2016 earned him an automatic crack at the lead catching spot for this year. Combined with the fact that Christian Vazquez looks great defensively, went deep on Sunday and is out of options, Swihart was the obvious odd man out.

He had options, the others didn't.

Deven Marrero was also optioned to Pawtucket. Sam Travis -- who, like Swihart, could break camp with the 2018 team -- was reassigned to minor-league camp, as was catcher Dan Butler.

The Sox have 38 players left in camp, 32 from the 40-man roster.

Red Sox reliever Tyler Thornburg likely headed to disabled list

Red Sox reliever Tyler Thornburg likely headed to disabled list

Righty Tyler Thornburg seems a guarantee to join David Price on the disabled list to start the season.

Thornburg, the biggest acquisition Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski made for the bullpen this winter, was scratched Monday because of a spasm in his upper right trapezius — not a great sign for a pitcher who already had throwing shoulder issues this spring.

Sox manager John Farrell told reporters in Florida the spasm was “not shoulder related.”  But the trap, a large muscle along the neck and back, does extend to the shoulder blade.

Dombrowski told reporters it is most likely that Thornburg starts the year on the disabled list. More is expected to be known Tuesday, possibly after an MRI.

Robby Scott could be a replacement for Thornburg. If so, the Sox would likely have three lefties in the bullpen, along with Fernando Abad and Robbie Ross Jr.

"Possibly. Possibly," Dombrowski said of Scott. “We still have to make those decisions. But possibly.”

Dombrowski didn’t indicate a desire to go outside the organization for now.

Thornburg had barely enough time to get ready for Opening Day prior to Monday’s setback. If he indeed starts the season on the DL, Joe Kelly would be the eighth-inning reliever for the Sox — a role Kelly was headed for anyway given Thornburg’s shaky spring.

Thornburg, 28, had a 2.15 ERA last season for the Brewers. The Sox picked him up at the winter meetings in a deal that sent Travis Shaw and prospects to the Milwaukee Brewers.