Red Sox pitching coach John Farrell says he expects Daisuke Matsuzaka to pitch again this season. But before the struggling righthander, who was sent to the disabled list yesterday with a weak right shoulder, does so, he will have to prove beyond a doubt that he is strong enough to handle the workload.
"Our every intention will be to get him back this year," Farrell said during an interview with WEEI's "The Dale and Holley Show" this afternoon. "Now, I say that with no end time frame that says on August 1, he's going to be back in our rotation. There are going to be objectives that he's going to have to meet along the way here both in terms of strength and conditioning, both from a body standpoint and from a shoulder standpoint.
"He's working from a better foundation now than if you were talking about January or February, that's obvious with the amount of innings he's thrown. It's clear there are needs that do exist. By his own admission he knows there's the need to take a step back before taking steps forward and that's what we're in the process of constructing an overall plan physically and fundamentally to get him back to that level."
Farrell emphasized that Matsuzaka is not suffering from a specific injury, but is battling weakness in his pitching shoulder that stems in part from his accelerated preparation for the World Baseball Classic in March.
"I think it's important to clarify, there are reports out there that Daisuke is suffering from a sore shoulder," Farrell said. "That is not true. That is far from the truth. He does have some deficiencies in strength that goes back to the preparation for a full season that in this case has not been afforded. And when you ramp up too quick, you fatigue it, and then trying to come back, you're working it to get back in shape and there's just not ample time or format to do that. Fortunately with [John] Smoltz coming to us, we have that time on our side and we're going to take the time needed to get Daisuke right to the pitcher he was the past two years."
Farrell said it is apparent that Matsuzaka's problems this season -- he's 1-5 with an 8.33 earned-run average in eight starts -- stem from not getting a proper start to his season in terms of building up his arm strength.
"You kind of look back to spring training. And this is not to point the finger at any one tournament or any one thing. But when you take a starting pitcher and they're accustomed to a consistent progression year after year and outing after outing, and when you interrupt that and ramp things up too quick, there are times when a pitcher will not have -- the world that is being used lightly here is 'foundation' -- but every pitcher has got to get himself physically and fundamentally prepared to get himself through a 162-game season. When you try and short-circuit that, whether it's though participation in the WBC . . . or any kind of short spring training, it can have an adverse affect on the individual pitcher."
Matsuzaka, an icon in Japan, was under a large amount of pressure to pitch for his homeland in the WBC. He was the MVP of the initial tournament in 2007, and again this season for two-time champion Japan.
Farrell says he understands the importance of the WBC to Matsuzaka as well as players from other countries, but that the tournament is a proven detriment to pitchers' immediate futures.
"I do know that whether it's Daisuke and his country, Japan, or whether it's guys who play for the United States, there is a tremendous amount of pride that goes along with the involvement in that tournament," Farrell said. "Some players are more closely obligated to filling that request than others. In the case of Daisuke, it's clear [it's very important to participate], it's a very important tournament, for not only he, but their entire country.
"On the downside of that, I think it's clear, now that there have been two of these tournaments, that the season performances of the pitchers who participate in that tournament take a step backward. It's not just Daisuke. We've researched pitchers in Japan who participated for their WBC team, and the same situation or subpar performance has taken place. This is a well-intended tournament . . . yes, there are some drawbacks to it."
Farrell said that if there is any small blessing in Matsuzaka's struggles, it's that it may force him to make adjustments to which he has been reluctant.
"I wouldn't say he is loathe to listen, that's not the case," Farrell said. "But I will tell you this, every elite performer -- and let's face it, Daisuke's won 33 games of regular-season baseball the last two years, so he should be considered an elite performer -- they're very strong in their mindset in terms of what they're individual strengths are, they rely heavily on those, and when it comes time for adjustment, sometimes there's adversity as he's facing now that is needed to make necessary adjustments. And we're not talking about wholesale changes with Daisuke. This is centering around physical strength and conditioning, and overall shoulder strength."
Another Sox pitcher, as Farrell noted, went through a similar issue last year, though not to such drastic effect.
"You can also look back to last year, when Josh Beckett's spring training was interrupted because of a back injury, and he was seemingly playing catch-up for the entire year," Farrell said. "This is very much like what Daisuke [is going through] and from what we're trying to rectify going forward."