boston.com Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe
DAN SHAUGHNESSY

Throwing us a curve

Matsuzaka has little command and less comment

SARASOTA, Fla. -- Dice-K Dissection. Prepare yourself, Red Sox fans.

Daisuke Matsuzaka pitched five innings of no-hit baseball in a 5-0 spring training loss to the Cincinnati Reds yesterday, but that's not the story. The story is that Dice-K walked five batters and demonstrated poor command of his fastball. Then he did some stretching of his back and legs, which was caught by ESPN cameras. Then he iced down in the locker room. Then he changed his mind about his postgame routine and decided for the first time not to speak with the media -- American or Japanese.

The result of all this will be a five-day frenzy of Dice-K speculation on two continents. Is he hurt? Is he frustrated? Is he a diva? Is he physically and mentally prepared for his first big league start next Friday in Kansas City?

Only in Boston. Only here could there be a crisis after a guy throws a five-inning no-hitter.

Sox manager Terry Francona grew tired of the questions as he sat in the dugout after the game while the bus engine hummed beyond the left-field wall.

"You guys are going to drive me nuts," said the manager. "This is a spring training game in Sarasota. Ease off. Now I know why he didn't want to talk to you guys.

"I don't think every time a pitcher goes out there he's going to hit the glove every time. But he got to 104 pitches [only 59 strikes]. He stretched out. He's ready to go."

Matsuzaka has one more spring start, Saturday against the Phillies in Philadelphia. Francona said he'll probably only throw 40-60 pitches in that tuneup. Meanwhile, a Nation waits and wonders.

Francona said the stretching in the dugout is normal. As for the ice pack, we don't know.

Tom Verducci's excellent cover story in Sports Illustrated on Dice-K has this quote from him regarding postgame ice: "No, never."

Matsuzaka was clearly not on his game yesterday. He walked one batter in every inning he pitched.

"He didn't have good feel for the baseball," said catcher Jason Varitek. "He wasn't as sharp. He was falling behind today, a lot of 3-and-2 counts. But he got better in the last two innings. He was still able to make enough great pitches to do well."

Dice-K's no-show news conference got the attention of media from both sides of the world. It was a first in his Red Sox tenure. Team publicist John Blake had everything set up, and media members were instructed to gather outside the Reds offices down the right-field line in the late innings (the Sox clubhouse in Sarasota is down the left-field line). But Matsuzaka never appeared, opting to send this head-scratching statement through his publicist, Sachiyo Sekiguchi:

"This time of the year I think the content of my pitching is more important than the result on paper. I am not happy with the content of my pitching today. I threw a lot of walks and wasted balls. And it was tough for my fielders to defend and to get into a good rhythm on offense. It's something I'll want to pay attention to in the regular season."

Asked to explain why Matsuzaka did not meet the media, a flummoxed Sekiguchi said, "I can't talk for him right now. All I can say is this is his words and that's how he feels and that's all he has to say for today."

That left the manager, the catcher, and pitching coach John Farrell.

"He showed an ability to make pitches in certain counts, even though he ran some deep counts," said Farrell. "This was another step to get his pitch count to 100. There are going to be days and starts where he has to battle through, and today was one of those.

"I think at some point in time in spring training, every pitcher is going to have a day where he battles his command, and that was today for Dice-K.

"Some of the counts were a little bit of a struggle for him, but even though he walked a guy in certain spots, he was able to come back and get the next hitter."

Dice-K hit 94 miles per hour on the gun. He didn't give up a run or a hit. But he didn't talk, and he iced and he stretched, and suddenly there are questions in a town that makes a big deal out of everything involving Red Sox baseball.

Varitek was happy to keep some of the mystery alive. The catcher wouldn't talk about a Tom Bradyesque "cheat sheet" he was wearing on his arm (perhaps key Japanese phrases?).

"That's top secret," said the veteran.

Just like the gyroball. And just about everything else regarding Dice-K on the day of his next-to-last spring start.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail is dshaughnessy@globe.com.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES