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He hopes to eat up some innings

Command is key for Matsuzaka

D. MATSUZAKA Went 5 in opener D. MATSUZAKA Went 5 in opener
Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Nick Cafardo
Globe Staff / April 1, 2008

OAKLAND, Calif. - Back in America, Daisuke Matsuzaka was playing the part.

Lunch was a bacon double cheeseburger from "In-N-Out Burger." After that, a little jogging and light tossing in preparation for tonight's start against the A's at McAfee Coliseum.

Actually, In-N-Out is exactly what Matsuzaka wants from his outing. The righty did not economize his (95) pitches on Opening Day in Tokyo last week, going five innings and getting a no-decision in a 6-5 Red Sox win.

Matsuzaka struggled in the first inning in his homeland, allowing a home run by Mark Ellis, followed by a tough stretch in which he went walk, hit-by-pitch, wild pitch, walk.

Matsuzaka is the designated No. 2 starter this season, but he seems to have to prove he's worthy of that slot in some parts of the baseball world.

Here are two scouts who watched Matsuzaka in spring training and in Japan:

Scout 1: "I still don't believe he has top-of-the-rotation stuff. His fastball is low 90s and he doesn't always command his fastball. If he doesn't have command, the rest of his stuff isn't exceptional enough. Will he get better? Of course he can. He won 15 games last year and he could win as many again. I don't think he puts fear in the opposition, though."

Scout 2: "I think if he does command the fastball and becomes more comfortable in his surroundings, he'll be a No. 2 and maybe even a No. 1. I think the hype was far greater than the pitcher we see, but I think you have to give the kid a little time to adapt to facing American League hitters who come at you all the time."

The debate is about what Matsuzaka becomes this season, whether he can take the next step from being a mid-rotation 15-game winner.

Sox manager Terry Francona tried to explain Matsuzaka's approach.

"Even when he gets to 0-and-2, you'll see a lot of 3-and-2s," Francona said. "I think when he's on a roll and he's going good, he gets into a nice rhythm, commands both sides, he puts catcher and umpire into a nice rocking chair when your command starts spreading out. That's the way we see him. Now, he's got to get to that point. The other day in the bullpen, he threw 62 pitches and John [Farrell] said the glove never moved."

Games, of course, are not won in the bullpen.

"We did a lot of homework on being prepared for a guy like Daisuke, but there are some things you just can't account for," said Francona. "The baseball is different. I picked up that [Japanese] baseball and it's got the nicest feel. They don't even rub them up. The texture . . . I felt like I could go out and throw a split.

"We're using horsehide now. I think they use cowhide. I don't know if 'supple' is the right word. Our balls are slicker and harder, not much give on the leather. I also think the strike zone is different.

"So you can imagine when he got on a roll, he's painting and he's got that feel going. How do you foresee how a guy is going to react?"

The Sox haven't seen the vast repertoire Matsuzaka was supposed to have, and Francona believes he doesn't trust his offspeed pitches when he puts people on base.

Matsuzaka has taken a different approach to spring training this time. Last year, he came to impress right away.

"Last spring he was pretty devastating," said Francona. "Every time he picked up a ball, if he gave up a hit, it was like world news, so now it isn't a big deal when he gave up runs in spring training.

"I think he went into spring training trying to gain arm strength as opposed to throwing every pitch so he wouldn't give up a run."

Drew is on deck

J.D. Drew took some swings in batting practice, will sit out tonight, but will play tomorrow afternoon, according to Francona. Drew has been nursing a bad back and Francona wanted him to take a couple of days to swing before playing.

"I really hated missing Opening Day in Japan," said Drew, "but under the circumstances, I couldn't perform like I wanted to.

"Maybe I'm not 100 percent, but well enough to go run around and go out there and play. What you don't want to do is reaggravate it to the point where you can't go back out."

Given Drew's hot spring training, the back spasms couldn't have come at a worse time.

"It was really frustrating because right during introductions I had to tell Tito I couldn't perform," Drew said. "I was in a good rhythm and didn't want to lose that. But I've had a back injury where I had to miss considerable time and I didn't want to do something and have that happen again."

Pitcher unstitched

Mike Timlin had the stitches removed from his right ring finger Sunday and did some 60-foot long-toss as well. Francona said Timlin may go on a rehab assignment, perhaps as early as the weekend . . . A team source said last night that Bobby Kielty was expected to accept a Triple A assignment. He had been waiting to see whether another team was willing to put him on the 25-man roster . . . In case anyone was wondering, Dr. Charles Steinberg's ability to stage an occasion translates to Los Angeles. Steinberg, who left the Sox over the winter to become the Dodgers' executive vice president for marketing and public relations, enjoyed a triumphant debut weekend. He was heavily involved in the planning of Saturday night's Coliseum event, in which the Dodgers and Sox set an attendance record for a baseball game with a crowd of 115,300. And at yesterday's regular-season opener, Steinberg staged a pregame ceremony featuring nearly 40 former Dodgers, including reclusive Hall of Famer Sandy Koufax. The players took their original positions on the diamond as a crowd of 56,000 roared.

Gordon Edes of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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