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He was zoned out

Matsuzaka outing is hardly striking

By Michael Whitmer
Globe Staff / May 28, 2010

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Even though a big zero was posted on the Fenway Park scoreboard after the Kansas City Royals’ first look at Daisuke Matsuzaka, Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell had an uneasy feeling come over him. He saw enough that initial inning — 24 pitches, two walks — to be concerned. This wasn’t going to be the Matsuzaka who nearly pitched a no-hitter five days ago.

And while the Royals didn’t get a hit until the fourth inning, Farrell’s fears played out. Matsuzaka was unable to throw strikes or avoid the big inning, two things that have plagued him seemingly since he moved to Boston for the 2007 season. He matched his career high in walks, issuing eight to the team that had the least amount of walks in the American League entering the game. Five came in the fifth, when the Royals scored three times despite hitting only one ball out of the infield.

As good as he was against the Phillies last Saturday, he was equally frustrating in a 4-3 loss last night, done in not by the opponent but himself.

“I think the way the first inning unfolded it looked to be a night where he’d have to make some pitches in some key spots,’’ Farrell said. “He created a couple of jams for himself and was able to diffuse it, but right from the get-go he didn’t have the command that he’d had in his last three or four outings.’’

Before the game, Matsuzaka felt something was off.

“I knew during my pregame warm-up my pitches weren’t great, but I just couldn’t make the necessary adjustments,’’ Matsuzaka said through intrepreter Masa Hoshino. “In my good outings, I can throw the ball without overthinking too much, but when things are going bad, no matter what I try to get out of it, things just won’t click, and I can’t build that momentum.’’

For four innings he was living dangerously, but worked his way out of tough spots: two runners on in the first, bases loaded and no outs in the fourth. Matsuzaka got out of both innings unscored upon.

The fifth wouldn’t be as kind. He gave up five walks — the first time a Red Sox pitcher had walked five in an inning since Darren Oliver in 2002 at Seattle — leading to three runs and an early exit.

One bad inning is still proving to be a problem. Of the 22 earned runs Matsuzaka has allowed this season in six starts, 18 have come in four innings. If creating problems and then finding a way out most of the time is Matsuzaka’s calling card, getting burned every so often is an unwanted but obvious byproduct.

Even when he skirted danger last night, he knew he was playing with fire.

“It might have looked like I got out of those innings OK, but in my mind I still felt like there were adjustments I needed to make,’’ Matsuzaka said. “The velocity was there, but there was no movement.’’

Staked to a 1-0 lead when the Sox scored in the fourth, Matsuzaka couldn’t preserve it even for an inning. He faced eight batters in the fifth, walking five and throwing a wild pitch that scored a run. Manager Terry Francona had seen enough.

“He wiggled out of one inning, came pretty close the next inning, but that’s a hard way to pitch successfully,’’ Francona said. “He has a unique ability to get out of some of those situations, but that’s a difficult way to pitch.

“If there’s one guy you can kind of gamble with it’s probably Daisuke, but that’s a lot of pitches, a lot of base runners, a lot of walks. He didn’t throw enough strikes.’’

Michael Whitmer can be reached at mwhitmer@globe.com

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