Matsuzaka has second straight rough outing

191542.jpg

Matsuzaka has second straight rough outing

By MaureenMullen
CSNNE.com

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. - After his last outing, Daisuke Matsuzaka said he wasn't concerned about the results. He was working on a few things. Good thing, because the performance was far from his best.

He also said he would treat his next start as a regular-season start. And that's not so good.

Matsuzaka gave up five runs on five hits in 3 23 innings, with two walks and two strikeouts, in the Red Sox' 8-6 loss to the Rays. According to manager Terry Francona, the problems were familiar -- very familiar -- to any veteran Dice-K watcher.

"He started off, right off the bat, pitching behind in the count," said Francona. "Got himself in trouble, had to throwstrikes, and kind of paid the price for it. It was one of those outingswhere he made it harder than it's supposed to be."

For his part, Matsuzaka backed off his I'll-treat-this-game-as-a-regular-season-start talk and said that he once again was working on things.

"It's difficult to say in words how I performed today," he said through a team translator. "During practice I throw very good pitch in my delivery. However, the result is not following through during the game. At this point, the game is very important and the result is very important. . . . And I'm working on things during practice and didn't really follow through during the game. So, that's something I need to work on for the next time."

Matsuzaka started his outing by walking the first two Rays batters, including No. 2 hitter Johnny Damon on four pitches. After two more batters -- an Evan Longoria single and Matt Joyce sacrifice fly -- the Rays had a 2-0 lead.

But then he settled down a bit.

"The last couple hitters in the first inning and thentimes in the second inning, he threw the ball just like he's supposedto," said Francona. "And because of that, he gets outs."

With two outs in the second, however, he gave up a home run to John Jaso on a 1-and-2 pitch. And he opened the third by giving up consecutive doubles to Zobrist and Damon and a single to Joyce, putting the Sox in a 5-0 hole.

Of the 16 batters he faced, Matsuzaka induced just three groundball outs.

"He gave up some loud contact," said one scout in attendance. "He couldn't get anything down and he was pitching behind too much."

"He struggled with his command for most of his outing," said another scout. "He got behind the hitters too much and left too many pitches up in the zone that were flat."

In his last two outings, Matsuzaka has pitched a combined 6 23 innings, giving up 12 runs (10 earned) on 11 hits and four walks with three strikeouts and two home runs, facing 33 batters. Granted, it's a small sample size but that translates to a very unwelcome 13.49 ERA and 2.25 WHIP.

There were points in the game, though, when Francona was able to see improvements from Matsuzaka's last outing.

"At times today, when he threw the ball like he can, he was fine," Francona said. "But there were also times when he made it difficult to pitch successfully. He looks healthy. The ball's coming out of his hands good. But at times he didn't command very well."

Asked if he is concerned about his last two outings, Matsuzaka replied:

"At this point, I'm not too worried about it, but I feel it's not great."

Despite the results, he was able to find some positives in his outing.

"The catchers and pitching coach said there's a few good pitches and they pointed out about the few good pitches, such as slider and changeup getting better. But at this point, I'm not really satisfied with these pitches. I need to narrow the gap between how I pitch and what others expect.

"Now I see the clear difference between what is a good pitch and what is a bad pitch and more specifically the changeup is working very well. However, the cutter, that's something I need to work on more."

Maureen Mullen is on Twitter athttp:twitter.commaureenamullen

First impressions: Ortiz moves past pregame ceremonies, hits game winner for Sox

red-sox-david-ortiz.jpg

First impressions: Ortiz moves past pregame ceremonies, hits game winner for Sox

BOSTON -- First impressions from the Red Sox' 5-3 win over Toronto:

* What's left to say about David Ortiz?

Ortiz acknowledged before Friday's game that the pre-game ceremonies and the attendant fuss over his pending retirement have created a challenge for him. Sometimes, it's hard to go from being feted to trying to win a game.

Not that you would know it by Friday night.

In his first at-bat, he singled home the first run of the game. Two at-bats later, he lined a bullet that was right at Jose Bautista.

But he saved his best for the seventh when, after the Red Sox tied the game at 3-3, Ortiz promptly untied it with a laser down the line, landing in the right field seats.

One more clutch hit from Ortiz in a career full of them.

* Brock Holt's defense at third has stood out.

John Farrell is looking for someone to step up with the third base job, given that Travis Shaw is hitting under .200 since the All-Star break and Aaron Hill has had difficulty hitting righties.

Holt, meanwhile, has seized the job somewhat by default, with a .319 average in the last 24 games.

But since starting the last four games at third, Holt has also contributed with his glove.

On Friday night, Holt made a fine stop with his backhand, on the third base line, and fired to nail Devon Travis on a close play at first.

Later, he came on a slow roller to gun down Josh Donaldson out at first.

* The Red Sox have done a better job of late capitalizing on opponents' mistakes.

Last week in Baltimore, the Red Sox were handed a gift by the Orioles when a throwing error by Chris Davis resulted in five runs being scored -- all of them unearned. It took exactly two pitches for the Red Sox to pounce on the opportunity.

On Friday night, it happened again.

Trailing 3-1, the Red Sox used a throwing error by Russell Martin to score one run and put another runner in scoring position. A groundout and single by Mookie Betts tied things, and Ortiz's homer broke the tie and gave the Red Sox a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

Good teams take advantage of mistakes. Two of the last six Red Sox wins are prime examples of that maxim.

Sox may have finally found their everyday third baseman for the postseason

boston-red-sox-brock-holt-infield.jpg

Sox may have finally found their everyday third baseman for the postseason

BOSTON — As has been well-documented, the Red Sox have tried any number of solutions at third base this season, with eight different players getting starts at the position.

Travis Shaw has the most starts of anyone, with 99. But with three games left in the season, it's become apparent that Brock Holt is being viewed as the likely starter in the post-season.

Holt started all three games in the recent series in New York and was the starter Friday night against Toronto, too.

"You look at the consistent quality to the at-bats," said John Farrell, "and they've been there for him. That's not to say the other guys aren't important to us. But this is the time of year where you're looking to put the best, current lineup on the field and his versatility has shown up a number of ways. He's a confident defender at third base and his skill set is a little bit different from the other guys.

"So against righthanded pitching, that could be the guy we're going with."

Holt came into Friday hitting .319 (22-for-69) in the last 24 games.

Shaw, meanwhile, has been streaky to a fault. In the second half of the season, Shaw has posted a slash line of .195/.260/.362.

"We've seen (the streakiness both ways) in short spurts," Farrell said. "He does have the ability to carry us. But we're trying to get there and we're at a point in the year where every game is meaningful. That's not to say you turn your back on what he did earlier in the season. But we're looking for sparks somewhere."

What's more, Farrell had Holt hitting second in the lineup, in an effort to produce more offense. The Sox were limited to just eight runs in the three-game series at Yankee Stadium, and over the last 11 games, scored more than five runs just once.

Holt hit second, with Xander Bogaerts dropped to sixth.

"This is to create a little bit of a spark for us offensively," explained Farrell. "We've been grinding a little bit. And also, (we want) to create a little more (left-right) balance up and down the lineup."

TIME TO PLAY

As the final few regular season games of his career wind down, David Ortiz acknowledged that it's becoming increasing difficult to focus on the games with all the tributes and ceremonies going on.

In the final 11 days of the season, Ortiz will have had five pre-game ceremonies held in his honor -- and it would have been six had not Ortiz asked the Tampa Bay Rays to cancel the ceremony they had planned in the aftermath of the death that morning of pitcher Jose Fernandez.

On Thursday night, Ortiz has his family on the field for a pre-game celebration hosted by the New York Yankees.

Minutes later, he had to step in to the batter's box against CC Sabathia. Sometimes, it's hard to flip that switch and be emotionally ready to compete.

"I'm not going to lie to you -- it has (gotten harder)," said Ortiz. "We're already in the playoffs, so for the next three days, I don't really have to worry about it. But the best thing about it is that once we get into the playoffs, there's not going to be all these distractions.

"I like to mentally focus when we play, especially when I'm playing for a reason. We work extremely hard during the regular season to get into the playoffs and once we get there, I don't want to blow that off. It's not easy to (do all the ceremonies) and play baseball at the same time. It can be a distraction."