No one knows the lengths to which a major league pitcher will go to win a game.
In the case of Daisuke Matsuzaka, Monday's 5-1 victory over the Kansas City Royals was a painstaking process that involved Tommy John surgery on June 9, 2011 and two stints on the disabled list that forced him to miss 106 games, the last 48 for a right trapezius strain.
Matsuzaka overcame those setbacks — and then some — to record his first victory since May 8, 2011, and 50th of his major league career.
Matsuzaka went seven strong innings and gave up one unearned run on five hits and two walks while striking out six. He threw 101 pitches, 71 for strikes, and looked very much like the dominant pitcher he had been advertised to be when he first came over from Japan five years ago.
"You know, he gave us what we needed – 100 pitches, seven innings, five hits,’’ Bobby Valentine said. "It’s a good outing.’’
It had been quite some time since anyone used those words to describe one of Matsuzaka’s outings, especially after the righthander went 0-3 with a 6.65 ERA in the five starts since his return from surgery.
"When I returned back in June and didn’t get the results that I wanted I thought for a moment that I wouldn’t be able to pitch a game like today this season,’’ Matsuzaka said, through interpreter Jeff Cutler. "I got back to my rehab and my last two rehab starts in Pawtucket went really good and I knew that if I was able to pitch like that up here, the results would come.’’
Said catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia: "He looked real sharp, had great command and went after the hitters from the first inning. Next inning, we tried to slow him down a little bit. It’s going to be a process of getting that feeling back and getting that sharpness back. But today was really good.’’
So good, in fact, it was the first time all season Matsuzaka had felt pain-free.
"When I went back on the DL back in July it was very discouraging, especially since I didn’t expect my body to respond in the way that it did,’’ he said. "The encouraging part about that was that it wasn’t my elbow.
"My elbow was feeling fine, despite not being sure that I’d be able to come back strong this season and pitch a game like I did today,’’ he said. ``I was able to work at it and the results eventually started to come.
"My body feels a lot better than it did before I had Tommy John and my body definitely feels better than it did back in June.’’
It had to come as an encouraging sign for the Sox, who won their second straight game since pulling off Saturday's nine-player blockbuster deal with the Dodgers.
"I’m very encouraged,'' Valentine said of Matsuzaka's performance. "Obviously, he’s going to get another start – maybe two, three, four, five. Might finish strong. Throwing like that, he has a chance.''
In other news:
• Designated hitter David Ortiz went back on the 15-day disabled list because of a strained right Achilles'. It was his second stint on the DL after missing 35 games. He was activated for Friday night's 4-3 victory over the Royals and went 2-for-4 with a double and a two-run single, which came in his first at-bat.
Ortiz will undergo a platelet-rich plasma (PRP) injection on his heel in the next few days to accelerate the healing process, which Ortiz said he hoped would give him a "60-70 percent'' chance of getting back in the lineup before the end of the season.
Ortiz had a similar PRP injection on his right knee in 2007 and experienced a positive result.
"You guys know I live for this [game],’’ he said. "And there’s not one thing that I would like to do more than be out there performing for our fans. I had one [PRP injection] done before and I believe in that big time. The thing is we didn’t get it done before because we thought it wasn’t needed in my case, but at this stage, at this point, I got to get through it.’’