FORT MYERS, Fla. In his first four seasons with the Red Sox, Daisuke Matsuzaka has posted a record of 46-27 with a 4.18 ERA. Although he is 19 games above .500, most of that can be attributed to his 2008 season, when he went 18-3 (2.90). Take that season away and his record is 28-24, with a 4.70 ERA.
While those numbers might not be awful, they are closer to what might be expected from a No. 5 starter than certainly from a top-of-the rotation arm, which is how he was billed before his inaugural 2007 season. Other numbers that are just as concerning 144 games over the last two seasons for which he has been on the disabled list.
After his first Grapefruit League outing, Monday against the Twins at City of Palms Park, Matsuzaka acknowledged as much.
In the past two years the condition, the overall condition was not excellent and was not to the point where I needed to be, Matsuzaka said through interpreter Kenta Yamada. So this year my goal will be to in better shape and be on the mound throughout the whole year during the regular season.
Matsuzaka, who appears to be slimmer this spring, is entering the fifth year of a six-year contract that will pay him 20 million over the next two seasons. He has no worries, he said, about his overall condition. In the offseason he worked on strengthening his legs to help him maintain his condition throughout the season.
His goal for the season, he said, is to be a part of the rotation. Its important for him, he said, to be able to compete at the same level as the other starters.
At this stage theres no promise to be a part of the rotation, he said. So, in order to solidify to the rotation I like to keep the good health, healthy conditions, and then show the good result during the spring season.
Working with catcher Jason Varitek on Monday, Matsuzaka went two innings, giving up one run on a Jason Kubel solo homer, with a walk and a strikeout on 25 pitches (14 strikes). He had two outs and a 3-and-2 count when Kubel blasted a shot of the screen in center field. Matsuzaka said he is trying to incorporate a cutter into his repertoire more.
As its the first outing of the spring season, the fastball is running pretty well, Matsuzaka said. Thats something Im very confident with. Overall, I think I did a very good job as a first outing.
The command of the fastball was very good . . . The cutter was not as good as I expected. So I will take a step to fix it during this spring season.
Manager Terry Francona was pleased with what he saw.
Very good velocity. That was exciting to see that, especially early on, he said. Very aggressive with his fastball. Had some good life to it. I was excited about that.
He threw the ball fine, said one scout in attendance. Good tempo with his delivery and went right at the hitters. He was aggressive and looked confident.
At this point in the spring, Francona is looking for simple things from his pitchers: building arm strength and pounding the strike zone.
The expectations for Matsuzaka will be much higher during the season.
Maureen Mullen is on Twitter athttp:twitter.commaureenamullen