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Elbow pain causes early exit

Matsuzaka pulled in the fifth inning

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By Michael Vega
Globe Staff / April 30, 2011

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As much as Daisuke Matsuzaka tried to fight through the stiffness in his right elbow, he couldn’t disguise his body’s warning sent to manager Terry Francona in the Red Sox dugout.

“We watched him in between innings and it looked like he was stretching out his arm in between innings, so we were keeping an eye on him,’’ Francona said.

When Matsuzaka gave up a leadoff single to Ichiro Suzuki in the fifth, Francona saw all he needed to see.

He immediately rushed from the dugout with trainer Mike Reinold and assistant trainer Masai Takahashi, who served as interpreter on the mound with the manager, pitcher, and catcher Jason Varitek.

When Francona heard the words “stiff’’ and “elbow,’’ there was no need for any further translation to make the decision to pull Matsuzaka in last night’s 5-4 loss to the Seattle Mariners before a Fenway Park crowd of 37,845.

“He went out and his velocity looked like it dropped pretty significantly so we made the trip to the mound,’’ Francona said. “He just said it was stiff. He didn’t put up a fight.’’

When asked if he had any concerns about his elbow, Matsuzaka said through an interpreter, “I have an idea of what’s going on with my elbow right now, so I’m not worried too much about it.’’

Varitek noticed “a drastic change’’ in Matsuzaka’s delivery in the fourth inning.

“He just looked really inside the ball,’’ Varitek said. “It didn’t look like it was coming out right. The ball was rotating differently.’’

Francona said Matsuzaka would be examined today, but gave no indication if the righthander would miss his next turn.

“I didn’t feel any particular thing before the game, but when the game started I started to feel stiffness in my elbow,’’ Matsuzaka said. “I could have actually continued to throw. I didn’t really feel that I needed to be pulled from the mound, but I left all the judgment up to Tito. It was his decision to [have me] come off the mound.’’

Matsuzaka retreated to the Sox clubhouse, where he said he went through his routine postgame regimen of stretching and icing.

He indicated he still felt some stiffness in the elbow, but nothing out of the ordinary after a start. But this was anything but regular for Matsuzaka, who left after throwing 82 pitches (46 for strikes). He was charged with three runs (one earned) on three hits through four-plus innings and had four walks and four strikeouts.

He allowed the Mariners to score two runs in the first on a sharp single to right by Justin Smoak, snapping his streak of 15 scoreless innings in which he allowed just one hit in each of his two previous starts.

“The first inning he gave up two [runs] and it’s awful hard to match giving up one hit through seven or eight,’’ Francona said. “That’s not going to happen every time. I thought he had some periods where he didn’t throw the ball where he wanted to. When he does, he’s fine.’’

Last night was not one of those nights.

Asked if he felt his manager had been too cautious, Matsuzaka replied, “I understand that Tito’s always concerned about players’ condition. To that extent, I am sorry about making him concerned about my elbow.’’

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