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Red Sox Notebook

Matsuzaka’s return shapes the stretch run

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / September 13, 2009

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It’s been three months since Daisuke Matsuzaka took the mound for the Red Sox. He was exiled to the minor leagues, where he went on an exercise regimen that shaved off pounds, perhaps improved his stuff, and has prepared him for a return to the major leagues.

That happens Tuesday when Matsuzaka will start the series opener against the Angels. It would be a difficult assignment for anyone, but Matsuzaka yesterday expressed excitement at the opportunity, saying he felt ready to help the Sox in their push toward the postseason.

He is in a unique position, as manager Terry Francona said, as is the team. Matsuzaka hasn’t contributed much this season (1-5 record, 8.23 ERA), but the Sox need him.

“I know that it took me some time to get here,’’ Matsuzaka said through interpreter Masa Hoshino. “But I also feel that I was able to use that time to get prepared really well, and I just hope that I can apply all those things that I was preparing for in my start.’’

Not only does Matsuzaka look different, but there might be other differences. Matsuzaka said that it might not be that big of a change, but his stuff “is a little bit better.’’

“He kind of evolved the last couple years, got away from the guy that we had signed, for a few different reasons,’’ Francona said. “I think what we’re hoping to do is see closer to the stuff we saw when we signed him. You might not see the exact same stuff. I don’t know if that’s fair. But closer to it this year.’’

This season has been exceedingly rocky for the pitcher, who turns 29 today. He has earned only that single win in eight starts and had some extremely poor outings.

He also caused a major misunderstanding while in Fort Myers, Fla., in July, when his comments regarding how he had been used came out, drawing disappointment and anger from the team.

Now that the communication appears to be better and the relationships appear to have been smoothed out, Matsuzaka is finally back in the majors.

He said it has been his intent all along to return before the end of the season, to help the Sox down the stretch.

“I think it was a difficult season, but I also firmly believe that the experiences I had this year are going to help me going forward,’’ Matsuzaka said.

“I know we’ve been through a lot this year,’’ Francona said. “The last two months have been really productive. He’s worked hard. He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do and probably a little bit more. So we are excited.

“I think short term we’re hoping it will be really beneficial. I think long term it will be tremendous. Regardless of how he pitches Tuesday, I think long term this is something that needed to be done.’’

Back in action
The Sox checked in with Jon Lester yesterday to make sure that he would be ready to pitch in the second game of today’s doubleheader. Lester said he had no problems after throwing 23 pitches Friday night. He got one out while the Rays loaded the bases before the game was postponed because of rain in the first inning.

“I think everything’s fine,’’ Lester said. “I don’t think there was any second thought behind it. I think it was just more a precaution than anything.’’

Asked if the abbreviated start might affect how many pitches he throws today, Lester said, “I don’t make that decision. I’m just, hand me the ball and take it away from me when you feel I’m done. I don’t worry about that stuff.’’

Eager to get back
At about 3:15 p.m. yesterday, Tim Wakefield stood in short right field playing catch. By all appearances, he is feeling better.

“The idea is kind of like we talked about [Friday], get him moving back in the right direction,’’ Francona said. “Talked to him a little bit cause he had actually volunteered to move up, which I don’t think is a good idea. We need to get through [today’s] doubleheader, which I think after [today] our rotation moving forward for the next six, seven, eight days will be a lot more clear.’’

Francona said that the fact that Wakefield volunteered to go earlier than expected - next weekend in Baltimore - is more a sign of how eager he is to pitch. “I think he does feel a little bit better,’’ Francona said. “I don’t think he’s ready to pitch. I think he’d do it. I don’t think that would be a very good decision on our part.’’

In a night’s work
Josh Beckett threw his fourth complete game of the season, the most for a Sox pitcher since Pedro Martinez had seven in 2000 . . . Victor Martinez extended his hitting streak to 13 games. He is batting .356 over the streak, and has eight RBIs in his last five games . . . Alex Gonzalez matched his season-high with three RBIs, all of them coming on a bases-clearing double in the third inning. He also nabbed his first steal of the season. He had gone a career-high 275 straight games without a stolen base, his last came May 25, 2006, when he was with the Sox . . . Shortstop Jed Lowrie appears unlikely to play much between now and the end of the season. With the Sox battling to make the postseason and with Lowrie still coping with the left wrist issues, there does not seem to be a lot of playing time left for him this season. “It’s not that I don’t want to get him a start,’’ Francona said. “We talked to him [Friday], we sat down, Theo [Epstein] and myself, kind of asked him where he thought he was. It’s a little bit of a unique situation. He’s not going to be at 100 percent until next year. We know that, he knows that. He’s certainly a lot more comfortable hitting righthanded. I guess the thought is to have him here and to not play him a lot. But we do know we have him here if needed.’’

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