boston.com Sports Sportsin partnership with NESN your connection to The Boston Globe
Red Sox Notebook

Matsuzaka could use a little support

BALTIMORE -- While Josh Beckett became the major leagues' first 15-game winner yesterday, you could make a compelling case that the best pitcher in the American League since June 1 has been Red Sox teammate Daisuke Matsuzaka.

Matsuzaka's record over that span is a modest 6-5, including a no-decision in Friday night's 6-5 loss here to the Orioles, but his earned-run average of 2.53 is the lowest of any AL starter (minimum 10 starts). He has 91 strikeouts and 35 walks in 85 1/3 innings, while allowing just 69 hits in 314 at-bats, an opponents' batting average of .220.

His average of 9.6 strikeouts per nine innings ranks him third behind Erik Bedard of the Orioles (11.62), whom he dueled Friday night, and Scott Kazmir (10.16), the Tampa Bay lefthander who is scheduled to face Sox lefty Jon Lester Tuesday in Fenway Park.

Why hasn't his dominance translated into a better won-lost record? Because in that span, Matsuzaka has received just 3.38 runs of support per nine innings. Matsuzaka went seven innings Friday night, allowing one run on four hits (all singles), while walking four and whiffing seven. He threw 113 pitches, the third straight start he's thrown the same number of pitches.

When looking at the adjustments Matsuzaka has had to make pitching in the major leagues as opposed to his native Japan, consider this: With four days' rest, which is considered the norm in the major leagues, Matsuzaka has made 11 starts, in which he has a record of 5-5 with a 4.19 ERA. He has 67 strikeouts in 73 innings. In the 13 starts before which he has had five days of rest (or more), the norm in Japan, Matsuzaka has an 8-3 record and 3.07 ERA. He also has more strikeouts (92) than innings pitched (85).

Trying too hard
Manager Terry Francona, who after Friday night's stunning loss attributed some of Eric Gagne's struggles to the adjustment he is making from closer to setup man -- an assertion Gagne quickly dismissed as an "excuse" -- conceded yesterday that he was "trying to lessen the burden on him" with his remarks.

Gagne has allowed runs in three of his four appearances with the Sox (16.20 ERA), and opponents have batted .474 (9 for 19).

"I think his biggest adjustment is coming to a new team, and trying to do too much," Francona said. "It was almost like he was being Tom Seaver, dropping and driving, which is just not him. There were a couple of times he missed his spots by a couple of feet.

"What he does himself is plenty good enough. He's got plenty of pitches. It's a normal feeling [trying to do too much], regardless of your pedigree, and he's one of the best in the game.

"That's one of the reasons why I didn't want to get him [Francona eventually replaced him with Hideki Okajima]. It's a matter of confidence. He's going to help this team."

Gagne spent close to 45 minutes upon his arrival in the clubhouse yesterday studying video.

Packing them in
Yesterday's crowd of 49,242 was the largest of the season and the sixth largest in the history of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Five of the seven largest crowds here have been for Sox games. With this afternoon's game already sold out, this series will go in the books as drawing more fans for a three-game set than any other in the ballpark's history. The previous two nights against Seattle, by contrast, the Orioles drew crowds of 17,511 and 18,679 . . . Sox broadcaster Joe Castiglione, who teaches a course at Franklin Pierce College in Rindge, N.H., might be among the few who knew that the Garrett Olson who pitched for the Orioles yesterday was not to be confused with Garrett Olson, the 22-year-old outfielder who starred at Franklin Pierce, was drafted by the Twins, and is now playing outfield for the Single A Beloit (Wis.) Snappers . . . In an item yesterday about Tim Wakefield leading the big leagues with decisions in each of his 23 starts, it should have said that when Gaylord Perry registered a decision in all 40 of his starts in 1972, it was for the Indians, not the Braves.

Gordon Edes can be reached at edes@globe.com.

SEARCH THE ARCHIVES