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Red Sox Notebook

Matsuzaka accentuates the positives

Bullpen can’t ruin his sterling effort

By Peter Abraham
Globe Staff / March 21, 2011

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FORT MYERS, Fla. — Daisuke Matsuzaka took a two-hit shutout into the sixth inning against the Cardinals yesterday then got two quick outs.

To that point, the righthander had thrown strike after strike and worked efficiently. He even twice successfully challenged Albert Pujols with fastballs in fastball counts, he was so confident in that pitch.

“He threw strikes and worked ahead in the count,’’ manager Terry Francona said. “When he’s doing that, his tempo’s better. He’s getting the ball and throwing it. There’s not a lot of dead time.’’

But Pujols drew a walk with two outs and scored on a double by Matt Holliday. That was the end of Matsuzaka’s day. By the time Andrew Miller and Scott Atchison were done, 11 consecutive St. Louis batters had reached and 10 runs had scored.

Despite taking the loss in a 10-3 game, it was a positive day for Matsuzaka. He walked two, struck out four, and threw 50 of his 79 pitches for strikes. Matsuzaka has given up two earned runs on five hits in his last 10 2/3 innings.

“I’m pretty much ready for the season,’’ Matsuzaka said via an interpreter.

Miller struggles Miller walked the first batter he faced, Colby Rasmus. Three singles, a walk, and another single followed. He did not get an out and was charged with six runs.

Miller’s spring training earned run average rose from 3.52 to 10.57.

“It’s kind of a reminder, coming in out of the bullpen, how important it is to attack the strike zone,’’ Francona said.

Miller’s arm and potential have excited the Sox. But the plan from the time he signed with the Sox has been to have the 25-year-old lefthander start the season in the minors so he can work on his control issues. Yesterday’s outing was a sign that much work still remains.

Gonzalez progressing Adrian Gonzalez has played in five games and had 12 at-bats. He will take today off, then play back-to-back games for the first time.

The plan is for Gonzalez to play against the Rays tomorrow night at City of Palms Park then in a minor league game Wednesday as the designated hitter. The big league team is off Wednesday.

Gonzalez was 0 for 3 against the Cardinals and played six innings.

Nava sent down The Sox optioned outfielder Daniel Nava and catcher Mark Wagner to Triple A Pawtucket and reassigned righthander Matt Fox to minor league camp.

Nava, 28, was one of the feel-good stories of last season. The one-time equipment manager of his college team belted a grand slam on the first pitch he saw in the majors.

Nava hit .242 over 60 games without another homer. Now he’ll need to find his way back again.

“I think he was fighting it all spring and got a little bit of length in his swing,’’ said Francona. “He knows he needs to shorten it up. But he’s improved so much in the outfield.

“Last year at this time, I’m willing to bet nobody asked me a Daniel Nava question. He’s come a long way. He just needs to go play and then whatever happens, happens. Guys play themselves into the mix.’’

Wagner, a six-year minor league veteran, could get the call if a catcher is needed.

“I think he’s pretty advanced defensively. I think he has a good aptitude for running the game. That’s what you have to have,’’ Francona said.

National issue The Sox are abandoning City of Palms Park and their minor league complex down the road for a new facility in Fort Myers next year.

The city hopes to lure a new team to join the Twins and Red Sox. One possibility is the Nationals, who are not pleased with training in remote Viera on the east coast of the state.

“We do have a problem here,’’ owner Mark Lerner told the Washington Post yesterday. “Viera has been wonderful as a town. Viera government has been wonderful. Our problem is basically logistics. Our closest game is 120-mile round trip. We cannot do that. It’s tiring. It messes up our practice schedule. It’s not good for the organization. We have no choice but to look at what our options are.’’

The Nationals have toured City of Palms but would prefer to have a new facility. “That would be ideal. Whether that can happen or not, I don’t know,’’ Lerner said.

The Red Sox and Twins would welcome a third team, as it would cut down on travel.

Match made in heaven The Sox will be in Clearwater today to face the Phillies. Jon Lester matches up against Roy Halladay . . . The Big Three of the bullpen will toil in minor league games today. Jonathan Papelbon is scheduled for two innings. Daniel Bard will come in to finish one inning then pitch the next one and Bobby Jenks will work one inning . . . Francona on backup outfielder Darnell McDonald: “He’s a part of our ballclub. Everybody loves him. He’s a solid pro. He plays all three outfield positions. Always ready to do anything you ask him.’’ . . . Joe Torre, Major League Baseball’s new executive vice president of baseball operations, visited Francona before the game.

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

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