Dice-K follows worst career outing with best

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Dice-K follows worst career outing with best

By Maureen Mullen
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Bearing little resemblance to the pitcher who took the mound in his last outing on April 11, Daisuke Matsuzaka mowed down the Blue Jays Monday in what could arguably be his best performance in a Red Sox uniform.

In seven innings, Matsuzaka held Toronto scoreless, allowing just two base runners on a walk and a hit while striking out three. He needed just 89 pitches (58 strikes) to get through his outing against a very aggressive Jays lineup, as the Sox won the finale of their nine-game homestand, 9-1.

The two baserunners match his major-league low in 101 career appearances. On April 1, 2008, he also allowed just two baserunners, over 6 23 innings, in Oakland. In that game he allowed one run, throwing 91 pitches.

"He threw a lot of strikes," manager Terry Francona said. "There were a couple of points in the game where they got aggressive early in the count. There was one five-pitch inning. I just thought he filled up the strike zone. It didn't always go where he wanted to but it worked ahead. If they start narrowing the zone a little bit, their swings obviously become a little bit different.

"He changed speeds, the differential on his changeup was good. He gave up the base hit up the middle. Other than that, there was one walk. Well take that all the time.''

Matsuzaka rebounded from what was arguably the worst start of his career. On April 11, he lasted just two innings (plus two batters in the third) against the Rays at Fenway. He gave up seven runs on eight hits with two walks, two strikeouts, and two home runs. In the second inning, he faced 10 batters, giving up six runs, with the first seven reaching base before he could record an out.

Besides changing the skill for pitching, the biggest difference from the last outing was changing the way of thinking of pitching, especially mentally, Matsuzaka said through a team interpreter. "I tended to have a little bit of a negative aspect and I tended to think many thoughts from listening and hearing people. So the biggest thing is I tried to not think too much about my outings.

"All I can do is pitch the best and the result will follow through after showing the best performance. So the time between the last game and today's game I had time to think about it and tried to think more simple and I tried to think simple in practice and as I was getting ready for today's game."

With his outing Monday, Matsuzaka improved his record to 1-2, cutting his ERA in
half, from 12.86 to 6.43. After his previous outing, Matsuzaka believed if he had had a similar performance Monday, he may lose his spot in the rotation.

If I pitched badly, I thought there wouldnt be another chance, he said.

Pitching coach Curt Young was not concerned about any lingering negativity for Matsuzaka after his last outing.

As long as Dice-Ks been pitching, you get in that class, these five guys are really good at turning the page and moving on to their next start, Young said. So, he definitely too that in. Thats kind of how, when youre in the class that his, thats what good pitchers do.

With two outs in the first, Matsuzaka gave up a single to Jose Bautista. With two outs in the second, he allowed a walk to Travis Snider. After that he retired the next 16 batters he faced, before giving way to Alfredo Aceves. That 16-batter stretch is the longest he has gone in his career without allowing a baserunner.

He needed just five pitches to get through the sixth inning, striking out Jayson Nix on three pitches all looking and getting Yunel Escobar and Corey Patterson to hit first-pitch fly outs.

His performance Monday improves his career record against Toronto to 7-1 with a 3.46 ERA.

One motivator for todays outing was John Farrell, the Red Sox former pitching coach in his first-year managing the Blue Jays, Matsuzaka said.

On the mound . . . I dont really think about the other opponent. I focus on each
pitch to make sure its strong enough, he said. But, I also knew that Farrell is on Toronto so I want to show a solid performance in front of him.

Matsuzaka was paired with Jason Varitek against the Blue Jays. In his outing on April 11, Jarrod Saltalamacchia was behind the plate.

Before the game I had a chance to talk to Varitek and I agreed with what he said, Matsuzaka said. He told me to focus and throw right to his mitt. I know he tried to help my pitching.

The right-hander got better as his outing went on, Varitek said.

I think he was still getting his delivery in the first, Varitek said. He got away with a few pitches and then was able to work his way from there but he was better in the first. Location was better than it was in his prior two outings and then he settled in. He had a pretty good cutter today, had decent life on his fastball, had a tough feel for his slider for a long time and then we were able to find some spots to get him comfortable with it. Threw some good changeups.

Most important thing he stayed down when we wanted him down and up when we wanted him to go up. I think sometimes its the hitters too. Able to make some pitches in hitters' counts and they got some balls put in play.

Matsuzakas pregame anxiety over possibility losing his spot in the rotation was quickly assuaged.

After I changed my mentality, I tried to throw the best pitch and believed the result would follow, he said. After that thought, my mind was clearer and
I was able to focus on the game.

Maureen Mullen is on Twitter at http:twitter.commaureenamullen

Jackie Bradley Jr. extends hitting streak to 28 games

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Jackie Bradley Jr. extends hitting streak to 28 games

BOSTON — Boston Red Sox outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. has extended his hitting streak to 28 games with a second-inning double Tuesday night against the Colorado Rockies.

It's the longest hitting streak in the majors this season and tied with Wade Boggs (1985) for the fifth-longest in Red Sox history. Dom DiMaggio holds the franchise record with a 34-game streak in 1949. DiMaggio's brother, Joe, hit in 56 straight games in 1941 for the major league record.

Bradley lined the first pitch he saw from Jorge De La Rosa into left field to keep the streak going.

Red Sox confident in Smith-less bullpen, plan no moves at this point

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Red Sox confident in Smith-less bullpen, plan no moves at this point

BOSTON -- The loss of reliever Carson Smith for the rest of this season -- and the start of next year, too -- is potentially a significant blow for the Red Sox bullpen.

But both vice-president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and manager John Farrell expressed confidence that the Sox can survive -- and even thrive -- without the hard-throwing right-handed reliever, who underwent Tommy John surgery Tuesday and will be sidelined until at least the middle of next season.

"Unfortunately, we really haven't had Carson much this year,'' noted Dombrowski, referring to the total of 2 2/3 innings Smith has pitched, "so our bullpen now has the ninth, eighth and seventh innings set with Craig [Kimbrel], Koji [Uehara] and [Junichi Tazawa]. [Matt] Barnes and Heath [Hembree] have both had opportunities to step up and pitched well for us. We'll continue to see if they do that.''

"I really like our bullpen,'' echoed Farrell. "We've had depth emerge with Hembree and Barnes, and we're able to distribute the workload evenly to protect Taz and Koji.''

But the Sox' high-leverage set-up crew features a 41-year-old (Uehara) and Tazawa, who has faltered badly in the August in each of the last two seasons because of overwork.

"I guess it's something we'll continue to watch,'' said Dombrowski. "There's still quite a bit of time before the [Aug. 1] trade deadline. So you continue to watch that. I feel comfortable with the way it is now, but we'll have to wait and see. We didn't anticipate this and that's really why we got Carson -- to give us more depth in case something did happen. But we'll continue to see what takes place.''

Dombrowski said it was too soon to begin exploring outside trade possibilities, given that talk doesn't intensify until after the draft in June.

"If something [else] were to happen,'' Dombrowski said, "I guess we'd be more aggressive. But right now, the way Barnes and Hembree (are pitching), along with [Robbie] Ross Jr. and [Tommy] Layne . . . we feel pretty good about our bullpen -- right now.''

"I really like our bullpen,'' noted Farrell. "We've had depth emerge with Hembree and Barnes and we're able to distribute the workload evenly to protect Taz and Koji.''

One possibile option could be taking a look at Joe Kelly in the bullpen. Kelly was sensational Saturday, allowing one hit in 6 2/3 innings in his first start back from a shoulder impingement. But it's long been thought that his stuff would translate well to the bullpen, and the Sox will have six starting pitchers when Eduardo Rodriguez returns.

"It's a great question, but it's not one I'll approach at this time,'' said Dombrowski. "We haven't specifically talked about putting Joe Kelly in the bullpen. But we're also aware that we're not going to use six starters.''

Smith is expected to miss the next 11-14 months, the typical recovery time from Tommy John surgery.

He was first injured on March 21, when he left the mound in Jupiter, Fla. during a Grapefruit League game. The diagnosis was a strained flexor muscle in the forearm, and he returned to action earlier this month. But he continued to experience discomfort, and a followup MRI Friday revealed a tear in his ulnar collateral ligament (UCL).

Dombrowski said "there was nothing at the time in March (that suggested a torn UCL). Flexor muscles, sometimes that leads to (torn UCL's). But not always. It's an alert that goes up in your mind when dealing with elbow. But you can't spend time obsessing about it, because then you wouldn't sleep on any night.''

Dombrowski said there were no red flags at the time of last December's trade with Seattle that Smith may be pre-disposed to this kind of injury with his cross-fire, three-quarters delivery.

"I think when you look at his delivery,'' acknowledged Dombrowski, "you'd say it's an unusual delivery. It's probably more apt to have injury. We had the medical information and we thought he'd be fine.''

Tuesday's Red Sox-Rockies lineups: Shaw sits out for first time all year

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Tuesday's Red Sox-Rockies lineups: Shaw sits out for first time all year

BOSTON -- For the first time since last season, Travis Shaw is not in the Red Sox' lineup.

Shaw, suffering from a minor left-hand injury, will sit out Tuesday night's game against Colorado, snapping a string of 76 consecutive starts. Josh Rutledge will play third base in his place.

The lineups:

ROCKIES:
Charlie Blackmon CF
Trevor Story SS
Nolan Arenado 3B
Mark Reynolds 1B
Carlos Gonzalez RF
Ryan Raburn DH
Gerardo Parra LF
Dustin Garneau C
DJ LeMahieu 2B
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Jorge De La Rosa P

RED SOX:
Mookie Betts RF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Xander Bogaerts SS
David Ortiz DH
Hanley Ramirez 1B
Chris Young LF
Jackie Bradley Jr. CF
Josh Rutledge 3B
Christian Vazquez C
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David Price P