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Matsuzaka a major attraction

Fans, media swarm to see first outing vs. big leaguers

Daisuke Matsuzaka takes no chances with Japanese lip readers during a mound conference. (HANS DERYK/REUTERS)

JUPITER, Fla. -- We've had the first Daisuke Matsuzaka press conference, the first Dice-K bullpen session, the first live batting practice, and the first time he faced college hitters in a spring training game.

Yesterday we saw him face major league batters in a spring training game for the first time.

But we still haven't seen him give up his first run.

Hurling three innings of two-hit ball against the Marlins, in front of a capacity crowd (8,044) that included Red Sox owner John Henry, Bill Parcells, and hardball Hall of Famers Dennis Eckersley and Jim Palmer, Matsuzaka threw 47 pitches (31 strikes) in a 14-6, 10-inning Red Sox victory.

"He looked pretty good to me," said Palmer. "I told John Henry that if you knew he was going to win 18 games, you would have had to have paid him more."

The first three innings were telecast live in Japan (NHK), where it was 3:05 a.m. Wednesday when the first pitch was thrown. According to Red Sox publicist John Blake, 14 million Japanese fans watched Dice-K's first inning last Friday against Boston College.

"I think my degree of readiness is very difficult to judge," Matsuzaka said (through interpreter Masa Hochino). "I'm about 40-50 percent there."

"He looked good," said Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein. "He's got a full arsenal. He's going to be very unpredictable. He can throw any pitch in any count. He's got a lot of different looks."

"His stuff was good," added catcher Jason Varitek. "He's progressing like all the other pitchers. He threw a lot of changeups and sliders today. He didn't throw any splitters."

The first batter Matsuzaka faced was former Sox prospect Hanley Ramirez. The reigning NL Rookie of the Year grounded to Matsuzaka on the second pitch. After Marlins second baseman Dan Uggla singled to right-center on a 1-and-2 breaking ball, right fielder Jeremy Hermida popped to short on an 0-and-1 pitch, another breaking ball. First baseman Jason Stokes fouled off a two-strike pitch and worked the count to 3-and-2 before whiffing on a slider.

"A quality pitch," said Palmer. "He hung a couple of high sliders to Stokes which he fouled back, then he got him on the 3-and-2 pitch. What I noticed was the way he warmed up. He started off with a curveball. Then fastball, slider, change. Very few Americans will warm up that way."

Matsuzaka got into a jam in the second inning. After walking leadoff hitter Joe Borchard and fanning Miguel Olivo, he surrendered a ground-rule double into right-center by John Gall ("2-and-0, fastball away to a hitter we don't know," said Varitek). Bouchard certainly would have scored if the ball hadn't bounded over the fence.

"I can feel Red Sox Nation shuddering," Parcells quipped after the double.

No matter. Matsuzaka caught Scott Seabol looking at strike three, then got No. 9 batter Eric Reed to pop up a bunt.

"He bore down and stayed on the ball," said Varitek. "He has enough weapons to utilize a couple of different things."

Dice-K said, "If I allow a runner to get on base, I want to keep him there. I really focused on holding the runners."

It was amusing to see Matsuzaka cover his mouth with his glove when Varitek came to the mound in mid-count with the runner on second. As if we would know what he was saying. This amused even Parcells, who was watching from the press box. NFL coaches are famous for covering their mouths with flip cards while barking plays from the sideline.

"He was saying something," said Varitek. "But I didn't understand it. We can communicate by sign language."

Matsuzaka said, "He came out and basically said, 'Can you throw a slider, inside -- can you do it?' And yes, it was in English."

In his final inning, Matsuzaka went to 3-and-2 on Ramirez, then speared a wicked liner back to the mound (Dice-K thanked Terry Francona for the fielding drills at the Sox minor league complex). Uggla and Hermida, the final two batters to face Matsuzaka, went out on popups.

He threw first-pitch strikes to 10 of the 12 batters he faced. His spring ERA is 0.00.

Matsuzaka certainly loves to throw. Sox officials were somewhat surprised when he threw approximately 60 pitches in a bullpen session Monday, the day before his start.

"It's being reined in a little," Epstein said. "It's a compromise. He's got a program that works for him. It's proven to be healthy for him. We don't want to change him. At the same time, there's a sharing of ideas about how to best get ready for a long season."

Dice K's next game is Sunday against the Orioles in Fort Myers.

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