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Matsuzaka on target for Saturday

By Amalie Benjamin
Globe Staff / April 27, 2010

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TORONTO — Daisuke Matsuzaka went into yesterday’s simulated game in Toronto just wanting to show the manager and coaching staff of the Red Sox he was ready. He did that, with his skipper and pitching coach expressing anticipation for his first start of the season, Saturday in Baltimore.

“He threw the ball pretty well,’’ said manager Terry Francona, who added that he umpired the simulated game. “Cutter had some power behind it. That was good to see. Breaking ball had some spin, some depth to it. He actually threw the ball pretty good. Some good changeups. He looks like he feels good about himself.’’

That was echoed by pitching coach John Farrell, who said, “The one thing that is becoming more evident is the action to his secondary pitches. His cutter and his slider have become a little more tight, powerful, and that’s an indication of increased arm strength. I thought he [hit the target], as he’s been doing in his recent starts.’’

Matsuzaka threw 69 pitches, with Jeremy Hermida, Jonathan Van Every, and staff member Ino Guerrero at the plate. He said he had a good feel for all of his pitches, and is looking forward to “just being able to step up on the mound without any hesitation.’’

Farrell said there was a difference between his pitches in his last start against major league competition, against the Nationals in Washington, and yesterday, calling him, “much more sharp, much more clean with all four pitches that he threw.’’

It was clear as well that Matsuzaka is looking forward to this start. After spending much of 2009 in Fort Myers, Fla., trying to get back in shape to rejoin the team, he had only September with the major league club. After suffering a neck strain in spring training, Matsuzaka again has been working away from big league parks this spring.

“I think the reality that I’m back with the team won’t hit me until I’m actually on that mound,’’ Matsuzaka said through interpreter Masa Hoshino. “I think that I’ll be really nervous when I first do get back out there. But looking back at this past month, when I’ve been such a burden on this team, I think as I get through more and more starts, I hope I can begin to repay them a little bit, and hopefully do that throughout the rest of the season.’’

Matsuzaka said he doesn’t want to “be any further distraction to the team.’’ He hasn’t had an easy time of it, nor have the Sox had an easy time with their starters in his absence.

Entering last night’s game, the rotation had a 5.06 ERA, which didn’t include the failings of Josh Beckett against the Blue Jays.

“If by coming back I can help give the team any sort of little boost or change of momentum, I think that’s all that I can ask for,’’ Matsuzaka said. “And by that, I don’t mean that I single-handedly am going to make all the difference. But I think sometimes you change the roster up a little bit, and good things start to happen, and I’m hopeful that I can be a part of that.’’

Relief effort
After the Sox used six relievers for the last six innings of last night’s game, the team called up lefthander Fabio Castro, who was scheduled to start for Pawtucket tonight. Castro hasn’t been tearing up Triple A, with an 0-1 record and an 8.10 ERA. The Sox used five relievers in Sunday’s game to cover 3 1/3 innings. Tim Wakefield, who has been moved to the bullpen, will not be available today because he started Sunday. Scott Atchison is the likely candidate to be sent down after amassing a 6.10 ERA. The Sox will need to make more moves this week if they want to add Alan Embree before his opt-out date Friday. The team still needs a spot for Matsuzaka . . . Kevin Youkilis got called out in the first inning by plate umpire Ed Hickox, even though replays showed he was safe. J.D. Drew singled to right, scoring Marco Scutaro and Youkilis was caught on a relay from right to the plate. “I think he was safe,’’ Francona said. “That was what I told him. That’s a tough way to start the game. We’ve got two in and first and third, as opposed to one. Looked like he was safe to me.’’ . . . Bill Hall was the only Sox starter without a hit . . . Beckett is 3-5 with a 7.34 ERA in 13 starts against Toronto. He is 1-2 with a 9.28 ERA at Rogers Centre . . . Jacoby Ellsbury, who has hairline fractures in four ribs, threw with more intensity before the game and was planning to hit off a tee. Mike Cameron (lower abdominal strain) did abdominal work and spent some time on an elliptical machine. There is still no timetable on Ellsbury, and a rehab assignment has not been ruled out.

Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com.

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