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