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Matsuzaka is still off the mark

More struggles for righthander

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / March 11, 2011

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PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — Daisuke Matsuzaka was hit hard by the Marlins last Saturday and vowed to treat his next start like a regular-season game.

That opportunity came yesterday against the Rays, and the righthander did little to engender any confidence, giving up five runs on five hits and two walks before he was pulled in the fourth inning.

Red Sox fans at Charlotte Sports Park cheered the arrival of relief pitcher Andrew Miller after watching Matsuzaka fall behind 10 of the 16 batters he faced and throw 63 pitches.

It has been a terrible spring for Matsuzaka, who has allowed 11 earned runs on 12 hits (three of them home runs) and five walks in 8 2/3 innings.

But the number Terry Francona chose to focus on was the date, even if he got it wrong.

“A couple of outings haven’t been good,’’ said the manager. “I don’t think we’re going to pack in the season after March 9 or whatever.’’

It was March 10, but Francona’s point still stands. The Sox aren’t going to panic. Matsuzaka is their No. 5 starter for a reason.

Still, his performances are troubling. Matsuzaka walked the first two batters he faced, then allowed an RBI single by Evan Longoria on a 3-and-1 fastball over the plate. Matt Joyce followed with a sacrifice fly.

“It’s difficult to say in words how I performed today,’’ Matsuzaka said via an interpreter. “In practice [I pitched well], however the result did not follow through during the game. At this point, the game is very important and the result is very important.

“At this point, I need to think why I didn’t perform as I expected. So I need more time to think about it. At this point I’m not too worried about it. I feel it’s not great.’’

Throwing strikes would be good to think about. Matsuzaka had five three-ball counts. Two of the batters walked and two others had hits that led to runs.

“He started out right off the bat pitching behind,’’ Francona said. “He got himself in trouble where he had to throw strikes and kind of paid the price for it. One of those outings where he made it harder than it’s supposed to be.’’

Matsuzaka managed to retire the final three batters he faced, two by strikeout.

Transition game Carl Crawford was expecting the worst from the crowd at Charlotte Sports Park. But the former Ray received a civil reception. “I didn’t really hear too much,’’ he said. “I figured there would be some things. There really wasn’t much being said. They were better than I expected. It wasn’t really bad at all.’’ Crawford signed autographs near the Sox dugout before the game and spent time with his former Tampa Bay teammates. He said the change is still fresh in his mind. “It’s cool,’’ he said. “I’m getting used to everything. Still trying to feel my way around.’’

Cameron returns Playing for the first time in a week because of tendinitis in his left knee, Mike Cameron was 1 for 4 as the designated hitter. He was robbed of another hit. “It was good to be able to put the bat on the ball,’’ he said. “I didn’t know where I was going to be with that after taking a few days off. Little bit out of synch, but for the most part I was seeing the ball well.’’ Cameron asked to play again today, but the only slot open was with the split-squad team journeying to Kissimmee to face the Astros. Cameron declined the three-hour bus ride . . . Daniel Bard had another dominant outing, striking out two in his one inning . . . The Sox tested Miller by bringing him into the game in the middle of an inning. He retired four of the five batters he faced . . . Camp surprise Alfredo Aceves hit his first bump. After throwing two scoreless innings, he could not hold a 6-5 lead in the ninth, giving up three runs on three hits, including a walkoff, two-run homer by Robinson Chirinos.

Catching up Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who was excused from camp Wednesday to attend to a personal matter, is expected to play against the Twins today . . . Infield prospect Yamaico Navarro, who was struck on the left wrist by a pitch Wednesday night, is fine and was 0 for 1 as a pinch hitter . . . Oscar Tejeda and Drew Sutton hit back-to-back home runs in the ninth inning to give the Sox a short-lived 6-5 lead. The 21-year-old Tejeda is 9 for 23 with eight RBIs in 12 games . . . Shortstop prospect Jose Iglesias is 8 for 21 (.381) in 11 games . . . Francona is friendly with Luis Salazar, the Braves’ minor league manager who was struck in the face with a line drive Wednesday. Salazar has facial fractures and has undergone several surgeries.

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @peteabe.

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