Matsuzaka is hit hard by Rangers
The unfamiliar stat line Daisuke Matsuzaka produced yesterday begged for an explanation, and Matsuzaka settled on his by early evening. In his fourth start since leaving the disabled list, Matsuzaka said repeatedly that he lacked merihari, the Japanese word for contrast or variety.
Matsuzaka's consistency may have contributed to his downfall in a 6-3 Red Sox loss to the Rangers at Fenway Park in front of 37,537. He controlled his pitches with unusual accuracy - he walked none, threw roughly 70 percent of his pitches for strikes, and struck out eight in 5 2/3 innings.
The problem with so many pitches in the strike zone is that some of them find the plate's heart. The Rangers battered Matsuzaka for 10 hits - few of them cheap - and five runs. Manager Terry Francona called the outing, "almost a little backward from some of his starts."
Opponents are batting .349 off Matsuzaka in his past four starts, a staggering difference from the .211 he held batters to last season. Matsuzaka has pitched with more aggression since he came off the disabled list, but he is 1-3 without throwing six full innings in any of his starts. Maddening as his escape acts could be last season, at least he escaped. Yesterday, he threw too many pitches with similar action in similar locations at similar speeds. Not enough merihari.
"I do have some thoughts on it, but I'm not sure if it's something I can improve on right away," Matsuzaka said of his struggles, through translator Masa Hoshino. "But the opponent's batting average is something I would like to focus on."
Matsuzaka's fastball reached 94 miles per hour, and he threw easily. The Red Sox are confident the shoulder fatigue that submarined his first two starts disappeared with his disabled list stint. But Matsuzaka has not found the typical flow of a season, ever since spring training when he participated in the World Baseball Classic and trained in Japan, not Fort Myers, Fla. with the Red Sox.
"I think my physical condition itself isn't that bad, but there are things that I am working on right now that I would normally take care of in the preseason or in the offseason," Matsuzaka said. "So in that sense it might take a little bit more time. But what I'm always trying to do is to get back to that where I can put together a good game."
"There was some swing-and-miss in that fastball," Francona said. "I think the hope is, as he continues to pitch, that progresses. Do we think that as he gets into a rhythm he will get sharper? Yeah, I agree with that. As far as making pitches, he doesn't have the reps that everybody else does right now."
Catcher Jason Varitek agreed that Matsuzaka left too many pitches over the middle of the plate. He also could sense Matsuzaka's lost feel from an altered preparation. Varitek felt Matsuzaka was "trying to figure himself out again."
Matsuzaka's primary tormentor was Nelson Cruz, the Texas right fielder who missed hitting for the cycle by a single. Only the double and triple came off Matsuzaka.
Even if Matsuzaka had been lights-out, it might not have mattered. The Red Sox scored three runs in the first four innings. But after Mark Kotsay hit a solo home run in the fourth, Vicente Padilla and the Rangers bullpen faced the minimum.
"I'm not sure we put together our best at-bats," Sox third baseman Mike Lowell said.
Padilla deserves some of the credit. He entered with a 3-3 record and a 5.57 ERA, but the Sox expected a challenge. Padilla threw his fastballs in the upper 90s, and righthanded batters were hitting .207 off him.
"We certainly wanted to get to him early," Francona said, and they almost did. After the Sox scored two runs in the third, they trailed, 4-2, but they had the bases loaded with one out. Jason Bay struck out looking at a 96-m.p.h. fastball over the outside half, and Lowell grounded to second.
Base running gaffes wiped out potential rallies, and the Sox would not threaten again. They managed four hits all game, only one, a double by Kevin Youkilis, from a righthanded hitter.
"He's a good pitcher," Youkilis said. "We all sit around and wonder how he has a 5.00 ERA, because he's got great stuff. He's one of those guys that can dominate a game at any time. There's not much you can do."
Youkilis added that he and his teammates looked forward to today's offday, a chance to breathe before the Yankees come to Fenway. The Red Sox did not receive a day off after arriving home from Detroit, the last leg of a 10-game road swing.
Yesterday, they lost a series at Fenway for the third time this season but for the second straight series - the Mets took two of three in Boston before the Sox departed for their 10-day trip. The Sox lost consecutive home series only once last year, in late July. It took a punchless offense and another headscratching start from Matsuzaka.
"It's just one of those days," Varitek said.
Daigo Fujiwara of the Globe staff contributed to this report