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Matsuzaka no longer center of attention

Posted by Peter Abraham, Globe Staff  February 16, 2011 05:21 PM

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FORT MYERS, Fla. The announcement that Daisuke Matsuzaka would take a seat on the bench in front of the clubhouse and take questions from reporters didn't exactly cause a burst of excitement today.

None of the columnists in camp stuck around to hear what he had to say and a few of the television cameramen packed up and left. On a team full of interesting stories, Matsuzaka ranks far down the list.

Even the Japanese media, which once covered him by the dozens, have moved on, leaving a small group behind to follow Matsuzaka. New Twins infielder Tsuyoshi Nishioka is a bigger story in Japan these days.

When Jon Lester was discussing the strength of the rotation today, he mentioned Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, and Josh Beckett, but not Matsuzaka. That has happened with other players, too.

The Red Sox spent $103,111,111 to get the rights to Matsuzaka and sign him before the 2007 season. Team officials referred to him as "one of the best pitchers on the planet" in those heady days. Now he's the fifth-best starter in Fort Myers.

Matsuzaka is 46-27 with the Red Sox but has a 4.18 ERA. Of the 64 pitchers in the majors who have thrown at least 500 innings the last four years, he ranks 34th in ERA.

"I've had good times and bad experiences," Matsuzaka said via new interpreter Kenta Yamada.

A star in Japan, Matsuzaka was asked whether he has improved as a pitcher or declined while in Boston. "It's been a great experience in the major leagues," he said.

Matsuzaka said he is healthy and is not worried about the issues that have dogged him the last two years. He admitted he hopes to perform better and believes his experiences will help him do that.

Say this for Matsuzaka, the Red Sox are 72-46 (.610) in the 118 games he has started the last four seasons. They are 303-227 (.571) in their other games. He also played a large role in helping win the World Series in 2007.

"He had two really good seasons to start then had an injury-plagued (2008). Last year was a bit of both," general manager Theo Epstein said. "Flashes of dominance, a lot of inconsistency. He helped us win a World Series. He had two seasons where he was one of the better starting pitchers in the league and the last two years haven't been what we wanted. The rest has yet to be written."

Matsuzaka has two years left on his contract, a contract that the Red Sox quite likely regret. There is ample time to change that and to become more than a No. 5 starter. Will he?

Your guess is as good as anybody's. The Red Sox have no idea.

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