|Daisuke Matsuzaka wasn't himself against the Rangers, nausea contributing to his poor outing. (MIKE STONE/REUTERS)|
Matsuzaka wasn't feeling it
ARLINGTON, Texas -- His stomach was bothering him from the start of the game.
By the end of the second inning, he was vomiting. Then came another wave of nausea.
This was not the best night to evaluate Daisuke Matsuzaka, but in the major leagues, if you take the mound, you're going to be judged.
What we have to keep reminding ourselves is that Matsuzaka, a 10-6 winner over the Rangers last night, isn't quite a finished product.
His record improved to 7-2, but his ERA soared to 4.43 as he allowed seven hits and five runs in five innings.
"All of sudden, I didn't feel too well," Matsuzaka said. "I regret I ended up being a burden to my teammates."
There'll be games like last night's when he doesn't quite have the feel for his pitches and he lapses into an occasional meltdown inning.
That was evident in the fourth inning when Dice-K allowed five runs, four coming on two-run homers by Frank Catalanotto and Ramon Vazquez.
"He struggled as a result of not changing speeds effectively," said Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell. "He came back in the fifth and had a better inning and gathered himself. But he had a rough time out there trying to hold it together. It's tough to pitch when you're not feeling well like that. But he did the best he could, we got a win, and I'm sure he'll come back strong next time."
At least we can now pinpoint the reason for Matsuzaka's difficulties.
We thought the wet field, the wet ball, the 1-hour-57-minute rain delay at the start of the game, the intermittent drizzle during it might have had an effect.
No matter what, last night's start was a departure from what Matsuzaka had shown his last three times out. He beat Toronto, 9-3, with a seven-inning stint. He beat Detroit, 7-1, with a complete game. He beat Atlanta, 13-3, going eight. In that 24-inning stretch, he allowed five earned runs. In his last two starts, he did not walk a batter.
He won Player of the Week honors in the American League.
Matsuzaka went through a detailed remedial session with Farrell after he allowed seven runs in five innings in an 8-7 win over the Mariners May 3. He tweaked a few things. He started running more, worked on a new grip on his splitter, did more of his Japanese routine.
It just may be that it's time for another tuneup.
We can't forget that Matsuzaka is experiencing US baseball for the first time. He's 26 with a world of experience for the Seibu Lions, but he's a rookie major league pitcher. When he's not quite crisp with his pitches, which was the case last night, he can overcome that enough to win, anyway. The great ones can do that, and Dice-K, while not great, is showing signs that he could get there.
What he did at times last night was get out of tough situations.
He had two on and nobody out in the first inning, but he got Mark Teixeira to ground into a double play, then struck out Sammy Sosa, stranding a runner at third. In the fifth, he allowed a leadoff double to Michael Young, walked Teixeira, then threw a double-play ball to Sosa and struck out Catalanotto, again with a runner at third.
There's no doubt he has the ability to find his poise as quickly as he loses it. But he is still not consistent with his delivery and his mechanics. And he is susceptible to the big inning.
Twenty-four of the 32 runs he's allowed have been bunched into eight innings. The Sox thought they had nipped that trend in the bud. But on the whole, they can live with those hiccups.
Because the hiccups haven't really hurt the team. The Sox are 8-2 when Matsuzaka pitches.
Imagine if the Yankees -- who bid unsuccessfully for him -- had added Matsuzaka and the Sox were without him. The 10 1/2-game lead the Sox enjoy over the Yankees might have been reduced, if not erased.
No wonder the Sox are willing to endure a season in which they know that on most occasions, Matsuzaka will give them a quality start. He can go deep into games and save the bullpen because he has a rubber arm and is far more durable than the average American pitcher.
Another plus is that Matsuzaka has a short memory. Last night he was able to quickly forget his troubles and pitch as if they never happened.
That wouldn't happen with a normal rookie.
Whether he's good, bad, or somewhere in the middle, Matsuzaka battles. Right now, he's worth the price of admission.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com